“The Islamic Saint as Healer: Bodies and Bodies Politic in Morocco”

Ellen Amster (McMaster University)

Friday, 7 April, 11:45 am – 1:40 pm, Keene-Flint 5

Traditional healing in Morocco, or the non-biomedical practices that people engage in to find relief from sickness and affliction, often involve Islamic saints (awliya’). What are these practices? Why do people do this and what does it mean?


Traditional healing has been understood in different ways—as a way to represent ourselves to ourselves, as a healing of spirit (as opposed to organic cures of biomedicine), or as popular religion, superstition, witchcraft, primitivism, quackery, and charlatanism.


Amster suggests that traditional medicines are a window into the reality of the human body and into human being.  Saint healing in Morocco allows us to realize that we see the body through a narrow modern frame, a blinkered vision that excludes other realities. “Saint healing” reveals the human body as a meeting-place of the divine and the corporeal, of the individual and the community, a place of narrative, history, and existence. The body is linked to the body politic, and the body politic to the body. We consider a variety of methods and interpretive sources to deconstruct this healing, suggest connections to similar or different phenomena elsewhere, and connect healing to history, geography, and sacred space.​


Lunch will be served. To RSVP, please email with any dietary restrictions to: Upon receipt of an RSVP, the following seminar reading will be circulated:

Amster, Ellen J. “Healing the Body, Healing the Umma: Sufi Saints and God’s Law in a Corporeal City of Virtue.” InMedicine and the Saints: Science Islam and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013.

Amster will also be giving a public talk, “A Doorway to the Divine: Islamic Bodies and the Sufi Saints as Connecting the Living to the Dead” on Thursday, 6 April at 5:30 pm in Smathers Library 100. More information about Amster and her public talk can be found here: