Rachel Harris - Reader in the Music of Central Asia and China, SOAS, University of London
This research is based on fieldwork across borders, working with Turkic Muslim Uyghur communities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It asks, what can attention to sound contribute to our understanding of the patterns of religious change and political tension in this region? How do new religious modalities circulate within Uyghur society, and how do people listen to, embody, and reproduce them? The study begins with a group of Uyghur women in a small village in southern Xinjiang, and explores the spiritual and political geographies they inhabit, moving outwards from the village to trace circuits of connection with Mecca, Cairo, Istanbul and Beijing. It encompasses field-based ethnographic study of village ritual practices, and digital ethnography of mediated spheres of religious life, oral traditions of Central Asian Sufism, transnational flows of Qur’anic recitation and radical nasheed, ideological debates and state interventions. In the fraught sphere of the discourse surrounding Islamic revivals, where dominant narratives privilege the visual in ways that routinely stereotype, demonize, and render Muslim subjects as passive Others, attending to the politics of voice and place may help us to cut through the polarized political debates, and create new narratives about the lived experience of Islam.
Rachel Harris teaches ethnomusicology in the Department of Music at SOAS, University of London. Her research focuses on musical life in China’s Muslim borderlands. She is the author of Singing the Village (2004) and The Making of a Musical Canon in Chinese Central Asia (2008), and she has co-edited three volumes: Situating the Uyghurs (2007), Gender in Chinese Music (2013), and Pieces of the Musical World (2015). She currently leads the Leverhulme Research Project ‘Sounding Islam in China’, and is actively engaged with outreach projects relating to Central Asian and Chinese music, including recordings, performance and consultancy.