Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
In this paper, I focus on fishers’ of the Chittagong region of Southeastern Bangladesh narratives of religious imaginations and experiences, particularly, in regards to their labor and declining fish catches. I research this narrative genre by situating an archive of Sufi hagiographies and British ethnological texts alongside ethnography. The Chittagong region of Bangladesh is well-known for the multiple Sufi saints who have visited and inhabited the region. Around the turn of the 20th century, one saint, Pir Badr, popular with maritime laborers, had attracted some interest from colonial administrators, particularly due to his multi-confessional worship throughout the Rakhine coast of Burma. Yet, as of present, his presence has been diminishing from Chittagong and Rakhine, in favor of other saints and explicitly anti-saint Islamic reformism. In this paper I understand the Sufi saint Pir Badr as operating within a genre of worship or imagination that possesses formal continuity with the present forms of religiosity that seem to exclude him. A focus on the formal continuities of worship and religious imaginings challenges the assumption of the irretrievable loss of tradition which has typically surrounded embraces of Islamic reformist ideals. The assumption of religious continuity via genre, rather than religious rupture, further, allows us to pay greater attention within this genre to more minor transformations and responses to change, particularly, those related to maritime labor, and relations to a maritime environment. This focus defies imaginations of progress, and also, helps us reconsider loss, so characteristic of life in the anthropocene.