Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Abstract 2014 Raphael Susewind

Raphael Susewind, University of Bielefeld and University of Oxford


Middle class moralities and masculine aspirations: Anti-poor rhetoric in Lucknow's contemporary Muslim landscape

Lucknow, the capital of India’s largest and one of her poorest states, can be a strange place. Former rulers speak of their nostalgia for a past long gone – but they don’t seem melancholic at all, having found new ways to sustain their wealth in the real estate boom. Politicians promise affirmative action for less fortunate Muslims and win elections on this count – though few actually believe them. And aspiring young clerics propagate a masculine morality for the emerging middle classes that explicitly blames the poor for their own predicament.

It is on the latter phenomenon that this paper puts its focus. At the example of Maulana Abid Bilgrami, a locally prominent Shia orator, I show how a conception of ethical life stripped of social responsibility and reduced to a (gendered) code of propriety – effectively a checklist of do’s and dont’s in individual conduct – takes root among Lucknow’s Muslims (despite subversive counter-trends, which shall also be mentioned). Based on an extensive analysis of Bilgrami’s videotaped sermons as well as my own ethnographic material from 16 months of fieldwork in the neighbourhood where he is most prominent, I further contextualize this “middle class morality” (Saavala 2010) in local class rivalry, masculine aspirations and the changing political economy of real estate. The entanglement of religious rhetoric with class and gender demonstrates that inequality is not only based in the complexities of social stratification, but also needs to be justified and sustained in social imagination – in this case through the startling project of an Islamic ethic without equality.

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