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Say What Your Longing Heart Desires: Women, Prayer, and Poetry in Iran


2021 AAR Book Awards

Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Constructive-Reflective Studies

From the jury:

Niloofar Haeri’s deeply researched and elegantly written book brings readers into the most intimate and exigent spaces of a religious world. Haeri examines the everyday prayer practices of Iranian women as the basis for reflecting on the relationship between prayer and poetry and on how ideas about religiosity debated in classical Persian poetry inform the world of prayer. Haeri’s ethnographic study of Muslim women at prayer, a practice that is at once deeply personal and utterly social, underscores the diversity of Muslim religious practices and challenges conceptions of what constitutes “authentic” religion, complicating the distinction between ritual and non-ritual forms of worship. This beautiful book is a signal contribution to the study of women and Islam, with implications for the study of religion itself.


The question that has motivated much of my work so far has been: What difference does language make? What difference does it make in our relationships, religious acts, beliefs, our memories, and more broadly all that in one way or another involves language? I want to understand how the circle that is language changing society (community, politics, religion, rituals) changing language actually works.



The project I have just begun working on is on questions of voice, presence and absence. It seems to me that translations of sacred texts produce an absence—that of the voice of the divine. What kind of theoretical framework can hear this voice? In thinking about this and similar questions, I am inspired by the work of Michel de Certeau, Walter Benjamin, Robert Orsi and Hans Ulrich Gumbrech.

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