Religion in Practice

Gender rights and Islamic law

Associate Professor Erin Stiles has been conducting research on Islamic legal practice in Zanzibar for many years. Her first set of projects focused on marital disputing in Islamic courts, and her current work focuses on conflicts over farmland and tangible property inheritance in rural Zanzibar, where male relatives sometimes draw on contested local norms to take property from widows. This phenomenon is often known as “property grabbing” and is in conflict with the Islamic rules that ostensibly regulate inheritance rights in Zanzibar. Through ethnographic research, Stiles is examining the extent and nature of property grabbing and how women understand property rights and contest claims to land through recourse to elders, local authorities and Islamic courts. Fieldwork for this project began in 2019 and will continue in 2021.

Spiritual experience in northern Utah

Latter-day Saint scripture and prophetic teachings describe a robust spirit world, and for many Mormons in northern Utah, these teachings become manifest in encounters with spirits. Reports of spirit encounters are common in this community and people report visits from benevolent spirits offering aide and from malevolent spirits seeking to tempt and harass believers. Through the analysis of narratives of spirit visits, Associate Professor Erin Stiles examines the extent to which interpretations of spirit encounters reflect local Utah Mormon conceptions of moral worth, moral progress and moral action. Stiles is currently conducting ethnographic and archival research for this project and graduate and undergraduate students have assisted her with fieldwork and archival research.