Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Talal Asad

Subject Categories



Healing; Islam; Psychiatry


Based on 19 months of fieldwork research in Cairo, this dissertation investigates the constitution and the practice of a therapeutic technique known as Qur'anic healing (al-'ilāj bi-l-qur'ān). In contemporary Egypt, as throughout the Middle East, the past decades have witnessed the increased visibility and popularity of this revivalist, Salafi-based therapy of jinn exorcism and counter-sorcery that is rooted in centuries-old Islamic practices of healing, all the while developing them into new configurations. During the same period, heated public debates stirred by the emergence of Qur'anic healing have occurred, debates in which psychiatrists have played a prominent role.

By examining Qur'anic healers' therapeutic techniques and their modes of reasoning, epistemologies, and authoritative claims, I demonstrate that the contemporary practice of Qur'anic healing is constituted through an articulation of Islamic and psychiatric, biomedical, and modern scientific more generally, practices, epistemologies, and sensibilities. Thus, Qur'anic healing brings into focus the interactions and entanglements of the putatively distinct domains of the "scientific" and the "religious," as they are instantiated in the domain of health and healing. Moreover, this study demonstrates how aspects of the Islamic tradition are transformed through interactions with other traditions. At the same time, Qur'anic healing is defined by a strong claim to healing orthodoxy. Therefore, this dissertation takes Qur'anic healing as a site for unraveling different orientations and debates within present-day Islam in Egypt over interpretations of the Qur'an, understandings of the unseen, and the boundaries of the Islamic tradition.

Occurring on the backdrop of the Islamic revival, as well as of the neoliberal dismantling of the health system and of changes in the conceptual foundations and practices of psychiatry, the debates stirred by the popularity of Qur'anic healing have concentrated on ontological questions concerning notions of afflictions, health, and the constitution of reality and epistemological ones over what are the disciplines and the forms of knowledge for understanding and treating the human. Most frequently framed in terms of the relationship between Islam and science, these debates pertain to a wider modern and secular discursive field concerned with the role of religion in contemporary Middle Eastern societies, one that has, however, been approached principally through the lens of Islam and politics. Focusing on the less scrutinized facet of Islam and science, this research contributes to the analysis of secularity and the secular by showing that the kinds of knowledges and therapeutic practices usually described as either scientific or religious are not, in fact, easily categorized as such, despite the emphasis put in public debates on drawing the "proper" boundaries between these domains.

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