Department of Music

Dr Guangtian Ha

Key information

Department of Music Postdoctoral Research Fellow China Institute Academic Staff, SOAS China Institute
Department of Music
PhD (Columbia)
21/22 Russell Square
Email address
Telephone number
020 7898 4399
Support hours
By Email Appointment


I am currently working with Dr. Rachel Harris (SOAS Music) and Dr. Maria Jaschok (Oxford Anthropology) on a project entitled “Sounding Islam in China” (, funded by Leverhulme Trust (UK). I am interested in the role and function of sound and voice, together with senses of smell and touch, in producing, consolidating, and de-stabilizing experiences of the sacred and formation of sociality. My work deals with intricacies of ritual performances among the Jahriyya Sufi in northwest China, particularly how various kinds of sounds – ranging from heterogeneous linguistic phonemes to mediatised chants – circulate throughout history and across distinct groups of Sufi practitioners. I have conducted extensive fieldwork on China’s Hui Muslims in a variety of provinces in China since the mid-2000s, focusing on issues of ethnicity, gender, Islamic reformism and the entanglement of religion with national and transnational political economy. I am currently preparing a book manuscript tentatively entitled Sung by the Praise: Voice, Memory, and the Migration of Sufism in China.

Research interests

Since the autumn of 2011, I have worked closely with Jahriyya Sufi practitioners in northwest China, particularly in the Yinchuan-Wuzhong-Qingtongxia area of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. I stayed in Yinchuan for seven months from 2011 to 2012 and returned in late 2014 to study the Jahriyya Sufi daotang (“Hall of Dao”) Hong Le Fu in Wuzhong, a vital site for Jahriyya Sufism for the past two hundred years. I have finished fourteenth months of fieldwork by now and expect to return again in the summer of 2016.

My research re-locates Jahriyya Sufism and China’s Hui Islam in general in the Arabo-Perso-Turkic-Mongol sphere of influence in Eurasia since at least the thirteenth century. The thread that enables me to link ancient history to the present is the centrality of sound in Islamic ritual performances and its irreducibility and persistent resistance to textualization. While concentration on text – particularly the canonical text of the Holy Qur’an – may lead one to assume the partial existence and relative homogeneity of the universal ummah composed of global Muslims, the limit of this presumption is immediately thrown into sharp relief the moment one encounters the heterogeneous sounds and voices that enact its performance as a “reading.” From the pronunciation – even phonemicization – of Arabic that has been heavily influenced by historical interpenetration of diverse linguistic sound systems to the consistent failure at musical transcription and standardization of melody and rhythm, Jahriyya Sufism tends to push the limit of the ummah to its utmost. Sound rather than text, speech rather than scrip, and listening rather than reading seem to open up new horizons and call for innovative approaches in the study of the classical “religion of the book.”

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Jahriyya recitation, May 2015, Lanzhou

Apart from my research on sound, I have a sustained interest in the entanglement of new Islamic movements with transnational migration both of labour power and of multimedia sermons and recitation. I see global Islam and global capitalism as articulated in complex and unexpected ways. My next project on the dual and inter-related transnational circulation of Muslim labour power and Wahhabi Islam between China and the Middle East (primarily Saudi Arabia) will address this topic through a multi-sited transnational ethnography.

I also write frequently for Chinese-language media based in Hong Kong on issues pertaining to Islam, ethnicity, and transnational politics.


Contact Guangtian