Since its inception as a modern nation state in 1970, the Sultanate of Oman has actively pursued a policy of national integration and modernization, smoothing over the region's political cleavages through the practices of heritage. Oman's expanding heritage industry and market for heritage crafts and sites is exemplified by the boom in museums, exhibitions, cultural festivals and the restoration of more than a hundred forts, castles and citadels. The material forms of national heritage provide the context within which the very foundations of the nation take shape. But the construction of the heritage project in modern Oman has also necessitated the formulation of the public domains of history and Islam as seemingly separate and autonomous, erasing any awareness of the socio-political and ethical relationships that once characterized Ibadi Imamate rule (1913-1958) in the region. This dissertation is a study of how forms of history, the re-configuration of temporality and the institutionalization of material heritage (turāth) recalibrate the Islamic tradition to requirements of modern political and moral order in Oman. Based primarily on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Muscat, the capital and Nizwa, once the administrative and juridical centre of the Ibadi Imamate, it explores the different ways in which the Oman's past inhabits the present, sustaining an active effect on the configuration of religion and community in the nation state.
This study explores the temporal logics embodied in the concept of `tradition,' through following concrete practices of making and reflecting on the past, and the material objects and texts that make these practices possible. Chapter 1 discusses the past as sanctioned by the Nizwa fort in its role as sharī'a adjudicator, as well as popular written and aural histories during the Imamate. Primarily moral in nature, oriented towards God and salvation and grounded in Ibadi doctrine and practice, the function of history held that the heterogeneity of every-day life's interactions and relationships facilitated by objects and texts could be assessed on the basis of past authoritative and exemplary forms of justice and morality, as embodied by the lives of virtuous forbears such as former Imams as well as the Prophet and his companions. Chapter 2 discusses how cleaving through the temporal assumptions of sharī'a time, heritage and conservation practices of the secular modern state, reconfigure religion through adopting a temporal engagement with a past that entails a changing teleological future rather than one continuous with an exemplary history. The materiality of objects and sites - including mosques and shari'a manuscripts - once embedded in ethically grounded social practices assumes an iterable and
pedagogical mode of representation that cultivates every-day civic virtues, new forms of religiosity and forms of marking time, defining the ethical actions necessary to become an Omani modern through the framework of tradition. In chapter 3, even as the national narrative conditions the way people ethically work on themselves through evoking such forms of heritage as the Nizwa fort, its old suq or the dalla (coffee pot) by way of example, it also generates anxieties and emotional sensibilities that seek to address the erasures and occlusions of the past through deploying alternative temporal logics assuming a dynamic perceptual edge. In chapter 4, an unacknowledged slave legacy, a residue of the sharī'a past, continues to create unofficial tribal hierarchies through state juridical regulation of marriage and divorce, legally endorsing
`customary' marriage practices between `pure' tribal Arabs vs. those descended from slaves or client tribes even as a national past sanctifies civil and political equality. Chapter 5 highlights the active re-configuration of historical memory by a non-Ibadi, non-Arab group, the Lawati, to fit into the national template through a process of Arab tribalization.
This dissertation argues that "inhabiting" heritage forms the nexus of competing modes of engagement with material objects and landscapes in Oman even as it mobilizes the very different anxieties that this history offers. Material forms produce a unique register for the exploration of the embodiment of multiple temporalities - destabilizing the modernist notion of time and its ties to global conservation practice - the practices and sensibilities that they foster and the ways in which they refigure new modes of relationships between religion and politics, creating new spaces and categories that have transformed the ways that Omanis perceive and organize historical experiences.