Science, Religion, and the Spirits: on Health, Healing and
Islam in Morocco
“Science, Religion, and the Spirits” examines the global revival of the ‘Islamic sciences of healing’ (ruqya al-shari’a) through a qualitative case study based in Morocco. It focuses on the beliefs and practices of ordinary Muslims of poor class backgrounds and how they relate to Western science and Islamic science when it comes to their illness and suffering. While patients and practitioners do not view the relationship between Islam and science as conflictual, the Moroccan state is concerned by a phenomenon that appears to undermine the image of a modernized nation. The study draws on ethnographic observation inside religious clinics and in-depth interviews with practitioners and patients who believe they suffer from jinn possession. It asks the following questions: How do religious and scientific beliefs interact to create a coherent experience and understanding of one’s condition? How do some patients grapple with the denial of their religious beliefs? How do women struggling with gendered oppression relate to scientific perspectives on their symptoms? And how do practitioners of Islamic healing make claims to Western science as they draw boundaries around their profession? The project will contribute to the field in four ways. It will (1) offer research on the practices and views of everyday citizens and those of a non-Christian religion, (2) present how beliefs about religious healing coexist with, reinforce, and also challenge the legitimacy of Western science, (3) show how people use claims to science to mark social boundaries and delineate between authentic religion and deviations from it, and (4) highlight the importance of gender to how people develop beliefs and relationships to science.