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Speaking Of Jinn…

March 4, 2018


I recently participated in a podcast about jinn, material culture and modernity and globalization on the Archaeological Fantasies podcast.

Here’s their episode notes:





Magical Jinn and where to Find them with Mark Allen Peterson

Today we talk with Dr. Mark Allen Peterson about the magical Jinn. Dr. Peterson tells us more about the ancient concept of Jinn, how that affect modern Arabic uses of Jinn, and how the views on Jinn are affected by Movies and Western tampering.

Archaeological Fantasies is a podcast in which Serra Zander and co-hosts Dr. Ken Feder and Dr. Jeb Card discuss popular beliefs about material culture and the historical record against mainstream archaeological explanation. Often they bring in a guest expert (i.e. me). It’s pretty laid back and funny, and usually educational as well.

On the episode in which I was the guest, we discussed what a jinn is and how it is different from the Western orientalist fantasy of the genie. I had to do some work to explain how a jinn isn’t really a ghost, or a demon but has some resonance with each, as well as how it is and isn’t like a fairy (in the medieval sense of fairies, not the Tinkerbell type).

We also talked about jinn and material culture, including how sorcerers use everything from knotted strings to elaborate rings to bind and control jinn, and the fact that such rings are now available on line. Our conclusion: either they are outrageous frauds or it is a (literally) damnably dangerous thing to sell!

We also discussed legends about how the Pharaohs bound jinn to guard their tombs, and the necessity, therefore, to have a sorcerer with a jinn at his command to release or defeat the guardian jinn. This segment of our discussion drew on two academic papers:

I was on the podcast because of my 2007 book chapter “From Jinn to Genies: Intertextuality, Media, and the Rise of Global Folklore” published in Folklore/Cinema: Popular Film as Vernacular Culture edited by Mikel J. Koven and Sharon Sherman, Utah State University Press.

In this chapter I explore the ways the idea of the jinn was appropriated by European print capitalism as part of its fascination with Orientalism. It transformed the free-willed jinn of the Middle East into the bound, wish granting genies we all know from movies like Aladdin.

I argue that capitalism created new kinds of cultural dilemmas — such as concern with scarcity (If I have three wishes, what should I wish for to make the best use of my opportunity) and opportunity costs (what are the hidden costs of choosing this wish over that wish?), as well as moral dilemmas (is wealth you get by wishing as valuable as what you get by hard work?). The object-bound genie that grants wishes to the person who opens or unlocks the object was created to fill this niche in folklore at a time when folklore was moving into professionally constructed stories, novels, and films.

The introduction to the book describes my chapter thus:

Mark Allen Peterson explores a wide range of films in his chapter to note the differences between Arab (mostly Egyptian) and Hollywood depictions of jinn and genies, especially in the transcultural Arabian Nights collections that move intertextually into European and American film and television and back into Middle Eastern media. Peterson contextualizes his transformation from Islamic demon to cartoon character within ideological Orientalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Particularly noteworthy in this chapter are Peterson’s descriptions of a whole cache of largely unfamiliar horror films made in Egypt about jinn. He thus provides insight into Egypt’s vernacular cinema, the ways these films reflect the belief traditions of their countries of origin, and the powerful influence on these Egyptian films of Hollywood narratives (ones that generally use the figure of the genie). In such films, wealth and power through wishes (such as those given by Aladdin’s genie) become the central plot. As these figures work their way back into their own cultures, their folklore is transformed by the popular culture of the West

You can read the chapter here (this downloads the whole book)


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