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Performing Piety

Performing Piety
Singers and Actors in Egypt's Islamic Revival

Tracing the Islamization of Egyptian celebrities and their fans and the emergence of an Islamic aesthetics, this book offers a unique history of the religious revival in Egypt through the lens of the performing arts.

October 2013
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332 pages | 6 x 9 | 13 photos |

In the 1980s, Egypt witnessed a growing revival of religiosity among large sectors of the population, including artists. Many pious stars retired from art, “repented” from “sinful” activities, and dedicated themselves to worship, preaching, and charity. Their public conversions were influential in spreading piety to the Egyptian upper class during the 1990s, which in turn enabled the development of pious markets for leisure and art, thus facilitating the return of artists as veiled actresses or religiously committed performers.

Revisiting the story she began in “A Trade like Any Other”: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt, Karin van Nieuwkerk draws on extensive fieldwork among performers to offer a unique history of the religious revival in Egypt through the lens of the performing arts. She highlights the narratives of celebrities who retired in the 1980s and early 1990s, including their spiritual journeys and their influence on the “pietization” of their fans, among whom are the wealthy, relatively secular, strata of Egyptian society. Van Nieuwkerk then turns to the emergence of a polemic public sphere in which secularists and Islamists debated Islam, art, and gender in the 1990s. Finally, she analyzes the Islamist project of “art with a mission” and the development of Islamic aesthetics, questioning whether the outcome has been to Islamize popular art or rather to popularize Islam. The result is an intimate thirty-year history of two spheres that have tremendous importance for Egypt—art production and piety.




Part One. The 1980s: Celebrating Piety

Chapter 1. Dreams, Spirituality, and the Piety Movement

Chapter 2. Repentance, Da`wah, and Religious Education

Chapter 3. Veiling and Charity

Part Two. The 1990s: Debating Religion, Gender, and the Performing Arts in the Public Sphere

Chapter 4. The Islamist (Counter)public

Chapter 5. The Secular Cultural Field

Chapter 6. Changing Discourses on Art and Gender

Part Three. The New Millennium: Performing Piety

Chapter 7. Art with a Mission and Post-Islamism

Chapter 8. Halal Weddings and Religious Markets

Chapter 9. Ramadan Soaps and Islamic Aesthetics







Karin van Nieuwkerk is an anthropologist and Associate Professor at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands. She coordinates the research program “Islam and the Performing arts in Europe and the Middle East.” Her main publications include “A Trade like Any Other”: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt, Women Embracing Islam, Gender and Conversion in The West (ed.) and Muslim Rap, Halal Soaps, and Revolutionary Theater: Artistic Developments in the Muslim World.


““…an invaluable contribution to the anthropology of performing piety, in general, and the study of Islamic revival and Muslim piety movement in Egypt, in particular.””
Middle East Media and Book Reviews Online

“The study is contingent on rich and diverse sources including, for example, ethnography, media, literature reviews, autobiographies of stars and local print material, published mostly in Arabic. The author conducts interviews with mostly female performers, intellectuals and critics. The interviews with artists make the book enjoyable and accessible to non-specialist readers.”
Middle East Media and Book Reviews Online

“Van Nieuwkerk provides a finely detailed contribution to the study of elite public cultures in the Middle Eastern and North African region. . . An inventive analysis of the circulation of taste in a fractured media environment.”
American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca
UPCC/Project Muse