2014 Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion

2014 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion and Honorable Mention

The SAR is pleased to announce the winner of the eighth annual Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion: Stephan Palmié’s The Cooking of History: Hot Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion (University of Chicago Press, 2013). Honorable mention is awarded to Emilio Spadola for The Calls of Islam: Sufis, Islamists, and Mass Mediation in Urban Morocco (Indiana University Press, 2013).

Following a rigorous competition, the SAR Prize Jury and prize coordinator are pleased to award the Clifford Geertz prize that celebrates innovative recent books that integrate theory with ethnography and that connect the anthropology of religion to the larger world.

The runner-up in the 2014 Clifford Geertz Prize competition is Emilio Spadola’s The Calls of Islam: Sufis, Islamists, and Mass Mediation in Urban Morocco. The Calls of Islam is a highly original and accessible book on the multiple, concurrent calls of/to Islam in Morocco and in particular on how Sufism has been appropriated by the Moroccan state. Spadola shows how mass mediation has affected structures of piety, authority, and power.

The book is rich in ethnographic and historical detail. The focus on mediation offers fresh theoretical contributions to the anthropology of Islam by arguing against the singular pious body and instead for the “breached” collective body as an effect of the force of communication. The Calls of Islam beautifully fleshes out an interpretation of the call to worship as a communicative mode that generates difference as much as coherence.

The Calls of Islam gives a new and innovative perspective on Islam and manages to introduce the field of media theory to these issues in an accessible and insightful fashion. The book also provides a very sensitive and theoretically sophisticated approach to the controversy involving Sufism.

The winner of the 2014 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion is Stephan Palmié’s The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion. Palmié’s book is a rich, fascinating and powerful rethinking of the ethnographic object “Afro-Cuban Religion” that situates the concept in transnational dynamics and discourses, as well as in the inter- and intra-national, ethnic and racial politics that produced the understandings of, and debates over, “Afro-Cuban religions” that dominate both anthropological and practitioners’ understandings today. Palmié’s detailed reconstruction of anthropological agency, and the relations between anthropological and practitioners’ agencies, in the construction of Afro-Cuban religion (and knowledge about it) implies a broader  rethinking of religion and the ways that anthropologists conceive of and study it overall.

The Cooking of History is a major contribution to the anthropology of religion and a theoretical tour de force written with much wit. The book’s quick, spirited, and witty prose ensures that it will be influential in anthropology as a whole. Well researched, theoretically sharp, and astutely reflexive, the exercise of detailing the historical construction of Afro-Cuban religion has never been done with such care. The manner in which Palmié carries out this exercise could surely serve as a model for others.

Congratulations both to 2014 Clifford Geertz Prize winner Stephan Palmié and to Emilio Spadola.