New Book Announcement | Invoking the Invisible in the Sahara by Erin Pettigrew | CUP 2023

Erin Pettigrew's picture

Dear Colleagues:

I am pleased to announce the publication of my first book, Invoking the Invisible in the Sahara: Islam, Spiritual Mediation, and Social Change, with Cambridge University Press. The book is accessible online for those with institutional access to Cambridge Core and available for purchase at the CUP website and on

By Erin Pettigrew, Invoking the Invisible in the Sahara: Islam, Spiritual Mediation, and Social Change. Cambridge University Press. 2023. 252 pp.


Invoking the Invisible in the Sahara utilizes invisible forces and entities - esoteric knowledge and spirits - to show how these forms of knowledge and unseen forces have shaped social structures, religious norms, and political power in the Saharan West. Situating this ethnographic history in what became la Mauritanie under French colonial rule and, later the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, the book traces the changing roles of Muslim spiritual mediators and their Islamic esoteric sciences - known locally as l'ḥjāb - over the long-term history of the region. By exploring the impact of the immaterial in the material world and demonstrating the importance of Islamic esoteric sciences in Saharan societies, the book illuminates peoples' enduring reliance upon these sciences in their daily lives and argues for a new approach to historical research that takes the immaterial seriously.


Part I Knowledge and Authority in Precolonial Contexts

Chapter 1: Principles of Provenance: Origins, Debates, and Social Structures of l’hjāb in the Saharan West 

Chapter 2:  Local Wisdom: Contestations over l’hjāb in the Eighteenth–Nineteenth Centuries 

Part II Rupture, Consonance, and Innovation in Colonial and Postcolonial Mauritania 

Chapter 3:  Colonial Logics of Islam: Managing the Threat of l’hjāb 

Chapter 4: Postcolonial Transfigurations: Contesting l’hjāb in the Era of Social Media 

Part III Articulating Race, Gender, and Social Difference through the Esoteric Sciences 

Chapter 5: Desert Panic: Bloodsucking Accusations and the Terror of Social Change 

Chapter 6: Sui Generis: Genealogical Claims to the Past and the Transmission of l’hjāb





Erin Pettigrew

Associate Professor History and Arab Crossroads Studies     

Co-PI Humanities Research Fellowship for the Study of the Arab World

NYU Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


Tel: UAE: +971 56 424 2525 

          FR: +33 6 46 11 33 15 

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