Cover of Sufi Civilities by Annika Schmeding
Sufi Civilities
Religious Authority and Political Change in Afghanistan
Annika Schmeding

November 2023
348 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503633384



Despite its pervasive reputation as a place of religious extremes and war, Afghanistan has a complex and varied religious landscape where elements from a broad spectrum of religious belief vie for a place in society. It is also one of the birthplaces of a widely practiced variant of Islam: Sufism. Contemporary analysts suggest that Sufism is on the decline due to war and the ideological hardening that results from societies in conflict. However, in Sufi Civilities, Annika Schmeding argues that this is far from a truthful depiction. Members of Sufi communities have worked as resistance fighters, aid workers, business people, actors, professors, and daily workers in creative and ingenious ways to keep and renew their networks of community support.

Based on long-term ethnographic field research among multiple Sufi communities in different urban areas of Afghanistan, the book examines navigational strategies employed by Sufi leaders over the past four decades to weather periods of instability and persecution, showing how they adapted to changing conditions in novel ways that crafted Sufism as a force in the civil sphere. This book offers a rare on-the-ground view into how Sufi leaders react to moments of transition within a highly insecure environment, and how humanity shines through the darkness during times of turmoil.

About the author

Annika Schmeding is a cultural anthropologist and Junior Fellow at the Harvard University Society of Fellows.