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Going local
May 8th, 2013 by Breigh Montgomery

Although the peoples that we have studied throughout the semster subscribe to one umbrella religion–either Judaism or Islam–the diversity in popular religious practices within the same faith are a testament to the significance of deep cultural roots and regional  identity. Studying saint veneration in particular gave insight into the strength of regional bonds and practices. The Rosen article, for example, pointed out that on a micro level, Jewish and Muslim saint worship in Morocco look remarkably similar to each other, likely due to their regional commonality.

Looking at Saint veneration and cults of spirit possesion has gleaned an understanding of the dichotomous, yet also complimentary relationship popular religion has with the larger orothodox institution. The plurality of popular practice and interpretation can be a framework to understand how people (in general) form individual identities. The Middle East and North Africa provide a particularly interesting case study due to the communal nature of most societies in that region. Even as there is a communal emphasis, the exploration of the Hilulla in the Saint of Beersheba, for example, showed the enduring signifcance of  Moroccan and Tunisian regional identity–and, in a way, popular identity- even though they immigrated to Isreal to live among people the same religious, and ostensibly, cutlural identity.

As a religion major, I feel like I now understand the significance of studying religion on a regional basis, rather than just aiming to have a broad understanding of a particular faith. Localized and popular religious study exposes nuances of applied practice and belief that would otherwise go unseen.


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