“What does the heart want?”: Being seen, “heart ethnography,” and knowledge through surrender in a Bashkir Sufi circle in Russia

Lili Di Puppo


Drawing on fieldwork in a Bashkir Sufi circle in Russia, this article explores my interlocutors’ mode of experiencing the world and transcendence. By letting myself be seen in the field, I let them shape the terms of our encounter as a way of glimpsing their mode of knowing. I explore my fieldwork experience as a transformation of the self in parallel with my interlocutors’ narrations of encounters with saints. I reflect on field experiences in which the limits of my rational thinking are revealed and mirrored in my interlocutors’ spiritual experiences. Being seen by their sheikh, my interlocutors experience a mode of vision that reveals the heart as an organ of perception. Similarly, as I experience being seen in the field, I am pointed to my own heart and soul. This mode of knowing that I glimpse into sheds new light on encounters with “otherness” and transcendence in anthropology.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/729989