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Knowledge, Sufism, and the Issue of a Vernacular Literature

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Abstract

This chapter highlights the role played in the construction of vernacular knowledge by a British officer: Richard F. Burton (1821–1890). Besides, a key element in assessing a society and culture was literature. In nineteenth-century Europe, people without literature were considered backward, while those who possessed it could claim civilization. He was also the first to claim there was a Sindhi vernacular literature tied to vernacular Sufism. Burton was the first European to say that Sindh had real literature and that as such its population was not backward. This statement was later confirmed by Ernst Trumpp who was the first to publish a Sufi work in Sindhi, the Shah jo Risalo, to which we shall return. Furthermore, Burton was critical of the older generation of British Orientalists, such as William Jones, and he introduced himself as an ethnographer. Burton identified that the common core of popular religion in Sindh was the cult of the intercessors, be they Muslim saints or Hindu gods. In his writings, Sufism appears to be the dominant discourse, as well as the matrix, that frames a shared popular religion. He cannot help but compare Sindhi and Persian literature stating that vernacular Sindhi literature similarly was mainly comprised of Sufi poetry.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for South Asian StudiesSchool for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS)/National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)ParisFrance

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