chapter  1
Saints and sultans: Religious authority and temporal power in precolonial Morocco
ByMOHAMED EL MANSOUR
Pages 32

Sometimes historians come across phenomena, the understanding of which is not possible with the historian’s tools alone. Maybe the most important one is the question of sainthood and its place in the historical process. In fact, no discipline by itself, be it history, sociology, anthropology or psychology, can alone offer a reasonable and satisfying explanation for this phenomenon which happens to be at the intersection of so many epistemological sensibilities. Manifestations of sainthood such as the notions of baraka, for instance, which the historian encounters at every turn of his/her journey across the historical texts, cannot be appraised without recourse to anthropology for the simple reason that ‘baraka’ is first of all part of a ‘cultural logic’ that falls more within the anthropologist’s domain than into any other discipline. This is not to say that the anthropologist alone retains the key to the puzzle of sainthood. A historian, for instance, does not fail to perceive the incongruity of pure anthropological interpretations when the historical dimension is overlooked and chronology is sacrificed in favour of oral accounts, the validity of which is questionable and never extends beyond the informant’s immediate world view.1 Many scholars are conscious of this dilemma and have attempted to bring together history and anthropology or sociology with the aim of elucidating a most complex subject. The result was the emergence in Europe of a ‘sociology of sainthood’ school led by Pierre Delooz and others. However, much remains to be done for Islamic sainthood despite a few recent promising attempts.2