By Heather Walker
ROME — Lay Centre alumnus Peter Dziedzic published his first book, “Symphonies of Theophanies: Moroccan Meditations” (Lote Tree Press, 2021), earlier this year on his yearlong experience in Morocco.
Dziedzic is currently a doctoral candidate in the study of religion at Harvard University. He lived at The Lay Centre in 2013-14 and in 2016-17, first studying interreligious dialogue as a Russell Berrie fellow at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) and subsequently studying at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) for a licentiate in the Arabic language, Islamic studies and Muslim-Christian relations.
We spoke to the young American scholar about what inspired his book and what he has planned next.
Q. The written word and images are interwoven in your book, “Symphonies of Theophanies: Moroccan Meditations.” Could you tell us something about the background to the book? What gave you the idea?
This was a project I started as a Fulbright researcher in Morocco, back in 2014. In Fez, I was studying concepts of sainthood and sanctity among Morocco’s Sufi communities. I found many of the practices of pilgrimage, prayer and devotion to be similar to those I encountered at the shrines of Catholic saints and Marian shrines in Europe. The book was written while spending time at these sites, among pilgrims and during times of pilgrimage. It was more of a personal outpouring of connection to and appreciation of the beauty and sincerity of these communities, and of discerning a deeper reality that united these Sufi communities with which I studied and the Catholic communities in which I was raised and formed. The book also speaks about the Catholic and Jewish communities I encountered in Morocco, painting my time there as a truly interreligious pilgrimage. It was very much a personal complement to the academic aspect of my Fulbright research, which was largely ethnographic.
Q. For people who have little knowledge of Morocco, do you think your book could be useful to learn about the country and its spirituality? Could you tell us something about the Sufis of Morocco?
I think the Catholic visitor would be very interested in the Sufis of Morocco. Many do not realize that there is a tradition and concept of sainthood in Sufi Islam, as in Catholicism. This tradition is global — you can find saints’ shrines from Indonesia to Zanzibar, Yemen, Bosnia and the United States — but it is particularly strong in Morocco, so much so that it is known as “the land of saints.” I think there is this rich tradition of seeing the entire world as pregnant with the presence of God, visible in the lives and shrines of saints in Morocco, just as a Catholic saint is a visible sign of a radiant faith in God and of service to creation. This book is a testament to that kind of experience.
This book could speak to certain people. Many tourists go to Morocco and they have little chance to interact with the diverse Muslim and Sufi communities of the country. However, it will not serve as a primary guidebook for tourists. If someone is interested in personal encounters with the religious aspects of Moroccan life and culture, to prepare for their own pilgrimage of the mind and heart, it may be a nice complement to a tour book.
Q. You chose both prose and poetry as an expression of your thoughts. Have you published anything else?
This is my first book. I am hoping the next few projects will be more academic and theological in nature, and I have a few projects in development. This is the work that naturally came first. I think everyone is an artist and a poet, so it is important to integrate these aspects alongside one’s academic and theological work, as a testament to the ways in which we are each a holistic being.
Q. Have you any other writing projects in the pipeline?
Yes. Moving forward, I am looking to employ more digital media — using higher-quality images and interactive stories — to explore other religious communities, stories and traditions, perhaps in a journalistic setting as well.
Photo courtesy Peter Dziedzic – Leading a group in the Fez medina in 2019