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The Demise of Adam in the Qisas al-Anbiyā: The Symbolic Politics of Death and Re-Burial in the Islamic "Stories of the Prophets"

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This paper explores how death and burial narratives — particularly those associated with Adam, the paradigmatic first human being, in the Islamic religious literature known as qisas al-anbiyā ("stories of the [Biblical] prophets") — relate to the discursive processes through which religious communities articulate lines of inclusion and exclusion in the formation of their collective identities. In conversation with Katherine Verdery (The Political Lives of Dead Bodies), who examines reburials of political figures in Eastern Europe following the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, this paper argues that Islamic narratives regarding the death and burial of biblical figures like Adam serve to re-appropriate, re-situate, and re-define boundaries of identity and difference both among Muslims (e.g.male/public vs. female/private; Sunni vs. Shi'a; ālim (scholar) vs. populist preacher) and between Muslims and non-Muslim monotheists, Jews and Christians, principally. Grounding the discussion, empirically, are a series of close analyses of various renditions of the story of Adam's demise as found in a range of mostly Sunni qisas al-anbiyā materials. From these analyses, the paper offers an expanded understanding of how religious communities, specifically, develop multiple and competing claims in an effort to "monopolize the practices associated with death" (Verdery).

Affiliations: 1: Department of Classics and World Religions, Ohio University, 210 Ellis Hall, Athens, OH 45701, USA


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