Writing has finally commenced in earnest on a monograph which carries the working title of ‘Gendered Voices and Religiosity in a Chinese Muslim Soundscape.’ Like most early writing, the title suffers from an overly long sub-title, ‘aspiration, sacrifice, resilience, and revival in the expressive culture of Hui Muslim women’s mosques.’ There is a long road to travel before this all sees the light of print! And thus, from en route, a few images from several years of fieldwork in central China, with photos taken by members of a large research group. These are images integral to my writing, affording, I hope, at least a glimpse of an intellectual space that currently so preoccupies me.
Following recent completion of research collaboration on ethnographies of Islamic soundscapes, a study of women’s religious voices, empowerment and traditions of silence in the context of Islamic resurgence in China, the monograph will complete a trilogy on Chinese women’s mosques. It centres specifically on feminist debates surrounding embedded theorization and local histories of women’s voices, empowerment and silence, utilizing discourse analysis of chants from women’s mosque oral traditions. Whereas the first two books were written in partnership and on-going consultation with Shui Jingjun, this third book will carry the heavier imprint of my gaze and thus of its situated partiality.
The images I share come from the final year of research observation/participation in central China. A collective initiative came into being to record hitherto unrecorded chants from the tradition of women’s mosques for a Muslim women’s Songbook of Chants. It became a project in which countless women and their leading ahong from diverse mosques in and around Henan Province participated to ensure as successful and comprehensive a record of their history as was possible. This required extracting women’s voices from an apparently overpowering, dominant patriarchal soundscape. Its purpose, successfully accomplished, was to bring women’s inaudible past within the hearing and reach of future generations.
Silence harbours, so feminist scholarship recognizes, many possible permutations of thought and action. Influenced by philosophies of epistemic injustice as well as feminist and postmodern theorizing of silence and voice, I am asking out of which silence has emerged a history, a culture of sustained belief and female religious identity that by their very presence ask us to query negative assumptions commonly associated with imaginaries of women in organized religion.