The University of Iowa

East Africa celebrated in new UI lecture series starting Mar. 22

March 10th, 2011

A new UI lecture series will explore and celebrate East Africa beginning Tuesday, March 22, with a talk by Valerie Hoffman titled, “Celebrating Muhammad, Remembering God: Sufism in Egypt” at 6 p.m. in Room A of the Iowa City Public Library. All lectures are free and open to the public.

See Hoffman’s biography and abstract below.

The “Celebration of East Africa” series will feature a symposium on the future of multi-party democracy in Tanzania, held Apr. 1-2.

The series will also include several scholars, journalists and politicians from Tanzania, among other U.S. and international speakers. Lecture topics include democracy and opposition politics in Tanzania; Kiswahili poetry and the HIV-AIDS pandemic; tobacco addiction in Tanzania; Christian hegemony and the rise of Muslim militancy in Tanzania; and more.

This lecture series is funded by the U.S. Department of Education through an Undergraduate Studies International and Foreign Language UISFL grant to the African Studies Program. Additional support comes from the UI Middle East and Muslim World Studies scholarly group and UI International Programs.

For more information, contact Jim Giblin at 319-335-2288 or View the full schedule of lectures at

Sufism (Islamic mysticism) is an important dimension of popular religion and sociability in Egypt. A vital aspect of Sufi life is the corporate practice of ritualized “remembrance” of God: chanting some of God’s beautiful names while bowing forward and backward or swinging from side to side. In Egypt, this is often accompanied by music and songs that celebrate love for the Prophet Muhammad.

Valerie Hoffman, a scholar of Islam who spent two years studying Sufism in Egypt, will show a film she produced on Sufi dhikr in Egypt and discuss aspects of Sufi spirituality and the situation of Sufism in Egypt today, where modern reform movements since the nineteenth century have often impugned Sufism’s legitimacy as an Islamic practice.

Valerie Hoffman is an associate professor of religion at the University of Illinois, specializing in Islamic thought and practice. She is the author of Sufism, Mystics and Saints in Modern Egypt (University of South Carolina Press, 1995) and the forthcoming The Essentials of Ibadi Islam (Syracuse University Press), as well as numerous articles on Sufism, Islamic gender ideology, Ibadism, and contemporary Islamic movements. She is currently writing a book entitled Islamic Sectarianism Reconsidered: Ibadi Islam in the Modern Age.