Saints and Sanctuaries (2019, in progress)

Saints and Sanctuaries, when complete, will be a small book of essays and photographs documenting the now disappearing culture of Muslim saint shrines in Palestine. The first phase of this project was realized with a grant from the A.M. al-Qattan Foundation. Mohammedan Saints and Sanctuaries in Palestine was a book published by the Palestinian doctor and ethnographer Tawfiq Canaan in 1927 for the Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society. Canaan believed that the burgeoning of modernity (and, implicitly, Zionism) was permanently altering the folk culture of Palestine and, thus, brought it upon himself to undertake gargantuan research projects on topics such as the customs of the Palestinian peasantry, the architecture of the Palestinian Arab house, and, in this remarkable work, the 348 Sufi shrines and other places of folk worship that dot the Palestinian landscape. Mohammedan Saints and Sanctuaries in Palestine is a sprawling work. It is a sometimes meticulous, sometimes ambiguous, and sometimes erroneous detailing of shrine and mosque architecture, village geographies, pantheons of local saints and holy men, and anecdotes from rituals and myths belonging to what Canaan called “primitive religion.”

Although sociopolitical changes have nearly extinguished the sanctity of these shrines and sanctuaries—among them, evolving ideas about Islam, and the containment of the movement of people (and, thus, ideas) across Levantine borders after the founding of the Israeli state—the structures and natural features mostly still remain. Focusing on twenty-five shrines, those mentioned in greatest detail by Canaan, this project is a photographic exploration and travelogue of the continuity of these sanctuaries, their sanctity now vacated, in a Palestine that is now truly disappearing.

The second phase of this proejct will soon be researched with a faculty development grant from the Maryland Institute College of Art. These are some photos from the project.