Popular Culture in Medieval Cairo

Publication Year



Boaz Shoshan, Ph.D. 1978

This is the first book-length study of popular culture in a medieval Islamic city. Dr. Shoshan draws together a wealth of Arabic sources to explore popular religion against the background of the growing influence of Sufism, an important biography of Muhammad that was suppressed by the learned, and the origins and popular practices of the annual Nawruz festival. He also assesses the political beliefs and economic expectations of the Carene commoners and the complex relationship between the culture of the elite and that of the people of Cairo.

  • The first book-length study of popular culture in medieval society
  • The author draws on a wealth of Arabic sources
  • Author tests his theory against similar phenomena in European society

Table of Contents

1. Sufism and the people
2. Al-Bakri's biography of Muhammad
3. The festival of Nawruz: A world turned upside down
4. The politics and 'moral economy' of the Cairene crowd
5. Popular culture and high culture in medieval Cairo
Appendix: Sufi Shaykhs in medieval Cairo.

Reviews and Endorsements

“Through a nuanced, sophisticated analysis, Shoshan detects ceaseless interchange between the powerful and apparently powerless in the wider arena of urban culture. ...his work makes a substantial contribution to the corpus of scholarly literature on the medieval (and modern) Islamic Middle East.” MESA Bulletin

“With these informative studies, Shoshan provides considerable detail and valuable insights on which future historians can draw in shaping an analysis of religious culture of similar general scope...” American Historical Review

“...the breadth of his [Shoshan's] study and the wealth of detail brought together in this small book are valuable not only for their content but for the way in which each section suggests new strategies and kinds of materials which historians interested in popular culture or the lives of ordinary Muslims in premodern times may use to investigate their interests. Moreover, his attempt to cross scholarly frontiers, to find methodologies and concepts in work on medieval European culture, is valuable. In this respect the book is pathbreaking.” International Journal of Middle East Studies

“The appearance of a work that explores the outlook of individuals previously bypassed by historians, or noticed primarily when obstreperous, is a welcome event. Boaz Shoshan has confronted the glaring absence of sustained analysis by modern scholars on 'those socially inferior to the bourgeoisie; hence, supposedly also illiterate, at least by and large' with a series of thoughful essays that examine the culture of these people from several perspectives.” Speculum

“This is an excellent in-depth review of the subject....I found the book enlightening and fascinating....It is therefore recommended primarily for graduate students and faculty with the appropriate interest.” Stephen J. Stillwell, Jr., Popular Culture in Libraries

“...ambitious, crowding together a variety of intriguing sources ranging from sermons and hagiography to accounts of public processions and economic and political history....his work is commendable for its application to Islamic social history of an impressive range of methodologies.” David Pinault, Journal of the American Oriental Society

“...these essays reward a close reading by opening windows on medieval Cairene society often assumed to have been nailed shut.” Warren C. Schultz, Journal of Near Eastern Studies

Series Title
Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization
Cambridge University Press
New York
Cloth: 9780521432092; paper: 9780521894296; ebook: 9780511881978