Piety, Practice and Habitus: Saba Mahmood’s Dialogue with Aristotle and His Legacy

In: Sociology of Islam

The article concentrates primarily on Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety in order to explore her treatment of agency in women’s piety movements. It argues that, while the influence of Judith Butler and Pierre Bourdieu on her work is obvious, the influence of Aristotle on her key concepts (agency, habitus, practice, and embodiment) has been neglected in the general literature. Aristotle’s treatment of ethics and politics has a natural affinity with Mahmood’s views on politics, religion and the ethical life. In addition, it is well known that Aristotle through numerous translations had an important impact on the Arab world and Islamic philosophy. Particular attention is given to Aristotle’s idea of Eudaimonia or flourishing as the ultimate aim of human activity. Mahmood’s criticisms of Bourdieu give a special emphasis to the importance of training and education in the creation of a pious habitus, and offer an alternative to the blunt determinism of Bourdieu’s ideas about habitus. Finally, Mahmood’s telling criticisms of the secularist assumptions behind the sociology and anthropology of religion were an important, if controversial, element in her understanding of Islam.

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