Richard C. Jankowsky, "Ambient Sufism: Ritual Niches and the Social Work of Musical Form" (U Chicago Press, 2021)


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Ambient Sufism: Ritual Niches and the Social Work of Musical Form (University of Chicago Press, 2021) by Richard C. Jankowsky (an Associate Professor of music at Tufts University) is a rich ethnographic study of the sonic and ritual landscapes of complex religious communities in Tunisia. Using theoretical approaches of ethnomusicology that attends to questions and patterns of form, texture, and intensification of the soundscapes, along with the consideration of the uses of various instruments, such as during trance, Stambeli, and dhikr, the study illuminates the role of women, racial, and religious minorities in shaping the ritual musical landscape of the region. The book includes case studies on women's and men's Sufi orders, Jewish and Black Tunisian healing practices, and popular music across diverse socio-economic classes as a prism to consider the social work of ritual music. Jankowsky concludes with a critical discussion of the popularization of Sufi ritual music in mass-mediated staged spectacles and the ambiguous roles of these concerts. Conceptually, then, "ambient Sufism" illuminates diverse and adjacent ritual practices that serve as a musical, social, and devotional-therapeutic niche which exists within a broader ecology of practices that orbit the life and legacies of saints, especially Sufis. This book will be of interest to those who think and write on ethnomusicology, anthropology, Islamic and religious studies, and North African studies, while its accompanying website will be a great resource for those who teach on this topic.

Shobhana Xavier is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Queen’s University. More details about her research and scholarship may be found here and here. She may be reached at You can follow her on Twitter via @shobhanaxavier.

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