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Renewal and Enlightenment: Muslim Women’s Biographic Narratives of Personal Reform in Mali

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The article takes Muslim women’s biographic self-constructions as proper believers in urban Mali as a window to inquire into the kind of responsibility and moral agency that these women assume and make central to their search for ‘closeness to God’. Focusing on the moral agency the women claim for themselves, it is argued, brings insights into their particular conception of collective and personal renewal and, by implication, into the particular religious subjectivity they formulate. Women’s accounts of their learning activities highlight the virtues of personal enlightenment and individual self-improvement, thereby revealing how a longer-standing trend toward individuation comes to inform these believers’ articulation of eschatological concerns. Moral agency, defined by its capacity to scrutinize and choose between alternative normative viewpoints, assumes a central significance.

Illustrating the great variety of motivations that prompt women to join a Muslim women’s group, the paper argues that these motivations need to more consistently studied with reference to Muslims’ everyday struggle and negotiation than has been often done in ethnographies of Islamic revival.

Affiliations: 1: University of Cologne


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