“The term “Reasonable Accommodation” has emerged in the last decade as a major innovation in the legal and political culture of liberal democratic nation states. Facing growing ethnic and cultural diversity, resulting from migrations that transformed their socio-demographic maps, liberal societies confront the imperative of accommodating minorities that are ambivalent about integration into the “national culture”… Support for modifying once sanctioned universal Enlightenment (and nationalist) principles in favor of multicultural accommodation has been gathering across the political spectrum.” —–  from the project description for the year-long series “Reasonable Accommodations?”: Minorities in Globalized Nation States


What is the history of religious tolerance in the U.S. and Canada and what can be learned from their examples? This was the jumping-off point for a timely one-day colloquium at Duke University at the end of last semester on Reasonable Accommodations and Minority Religious Freedom in the US & Canada.

The colloquium was part of a larger project — “Reasonable Accommodations?”: Minorities in Globalized Nation States — aimed at exploring religious diversity and minority religious freedoms in different regions of the world and directed by the Council for European Studies in collaboration with the Council for North American Studies, the Duke Islamic Studies Center, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and the Center for Jewish Studies at Duke University (all at Duke University).

“What do nation states and minorities, liberal majorities and religious communities, owe each other? How can universal enlightenment principles, such as those underlying human rights, be negotiated with multiculturalism and communal rights?” These are the kinds of political and legal questions being raised throughout Europe and North America today.

“Reasonable accommodations have been for us, from the beginning a global issue,” said project co-director and chair of the Council for European Studies Malachi Hacohen. “What we earlier attempted to do (in other sessions) was to learn from non-European and non-North American models for the future of European nation states, but we cannot ignore that throughout the late modern era both European countries and North American countries have been especially powerful, having advanced their own global agenda of reasonable accommodations.”



On Wednesday, January 13, nearly a week after the attacks in Paris (at the Charlie Hebdo magazine and at the Kosher market) Oxford University historian Martin Conway was at Duke for a long-scheduled talk on “The End of European Integration” sponsored by Duke University’s Center for European studies.

“A certain Europe, it is now clear, ended in the 2000s,” read the talk description. “Even if the nature of the new form of Europe its frontiers, politics, economic model and political structures remains unclear, the Europe which gathered momentum from the 1950s onwards and which achieved twenty years of almost unchallenged hegemony from the 1980s to the 2000s has entered a period of seemingly remorseless decline, characterized by volatile populist politics, institutional immobilism, and the emergence of nascent alternative alliances.”

Professor Conway discussed the geographic, economic, and political reasons for Europe’s crisis, made some brief remarks on the Paris attacks of the previous week, and entertained nearly a half-hour of questions, including a question on the outlook for Muslim communities in Europe, particularly in France and Germany. In this clip he discusses changes in European identity, President Obama’s absence at French demonstrations the Sunday before, secular liberalism in France, and the “otherness” of Islam in Europe.

This lecture was presented as part of the John Hope Franklin Center’s Wednesdays at the Center Series. 

The full lecture is available in iTunes U HERE 

ISLAMiCommentary is a public scholarship forum that engages scholars, journalists, policymakers, advocates and artists in their fields of expertise. It is a key component of the Transcultural Islam Project; an initiative managed out of the Duke Islamic Studies Center in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations (UNC-Chapel Hill). This article was made possible (in part) by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author(s).

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Professor Mark R. Cohen delivering a lecture to a seminar room full of professors and graduate students at King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (December 2014) Cohen gave two lectures there: “What is the Geniza and What does it tell us”  and “The Importance of the Geniza for Islamic History”
Professor Mark R. Cohen delivering a lecture to a seminar room full of professors and graduate students at King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (December 2014)
Cohen gave two lectures there: “What is the Geniza and What Does it Tell Us?” and “The Importance of the Geniza for Islamic History”

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE for ISLAMiCommentary on JANUARY 13, 2015: 

j8050(Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) History is a witness to the close relationship between Muslims and Jews. That was the message Profesor Mark R. Cohen delivered in two lectures at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last month on the Cairo Geniza and its importance for Islamic and Jewish history. The Geniza is a treasure trove of medieval Jewish documents housed in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, Egypt.

Cohen is Emeritus Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Emeritus at Princeton University. He was a visiting professor at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus during the Fall 2014 semester.

A professor at Princeton University from 1973-2013, Cohen is the author of Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt (Princeton University Press, 2005), The Voice of the Poor in the Middle Ages: An Anthology of Documents from the Cairo Geniza (Princeton University Press, 2005), and Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, 1994; revised edition, 2008). He was awarded the first Goldziher Prize in 2010 for his scholarship promoting a better understanding between Muslims and Jews.

In this exclusive interview conducted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Mark R. Cohen discusses his visit to Saudi Arabia, his career at Princeton, and his views on Muslim-Jewish coexistence. While the interview was conducted in December, its publication closely following the attacks in Paris is particularly timely.

Joseph Preville (l) and Mark Cohen (r) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Joseph Preville (l) and Mark Cohen (r) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Welcome to Riyadh. You’ve been writing about Islam and in particular the Jews of the Islamic world for many decades. What is it like to come to Saudi Arabia for the first time?

Here and also in Abu Dhabi, where I’ve been a visiting professor at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus this past semester, it’s been an eye-opening experience. It’s one thing to study Islam and the Arab world from far away, and, while I’ve visited Egypt and Jordan, I’ve never lived in an Arab country before. Here in Riyadh I’m the guest of King Saud University, particularly the Department of History. I was invited by the wing of the department that teaches Islamic history. They’ve welcomed me with open arms. They know my work.

My host is Dr. Torki Fahad Abdullah Al Saud. He finished his Ph.D. in Jewish Studies at Boston University in 2008 and wrote his dissertation on Maimonides and one other Jewish thinker from that time peiod. We’ve been in correspondence over the years, and he sends me his publications in Arabic. He’s an excellent scholar and one of the very few historians in the Arab world writing about the Jews under Islam. Continue reading

by EHAB GALAL for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JANUARY 19, 2014:

Ehab Galal
Ehab Galal

Scholarly interest in Arab media has increased dramatically over the past two decades, especially since the advent of the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera in 1996, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the global conflicts that followed this tragedy.

Arab media are increasingly seen as global players; not only as regional or local tools of communication. There are an ever-increasing number of Arab satellite TV channels that transmit to a large area of the world. Among these are also a number of important religiously oriented TV channels. While research into their history, development, content and circulation is still limited, it is rising. Very little has been published about the Arab audiences and the relationship between these new transnational channels (both religious and secular media) and their viewers worldwide.

I am editor of a new book Arab TV Audiences: Negotiating Religion and Identity (Peter Lang, 2014) that attempts to fill the gap by presenting six case-based studies focusing on how Arab audiences, in the Arab world and Europe, respond to mainly Islamic programming on Arab satellite television across a range of different national contexts: Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, and the United States.

The case studies examine audiences from various perspectives offered by scholars with different research interests and theoretical approaches to their analyses of Arab audiences.

Fragmented Audiences

Many insights can be gained, in this volume, into different aspects of the Arab media landscape, including the fragmentation of Arab audiences, and the role of religious media in religious identity formation and negotiation.

Knowledge about Arab audiences suffers from a lack of accurate television audience measurement systems. Speaking of a typical or characteristic Arab audience (Muslims and Christians) is extremely difficult, given the fact that Arab audiences are fragmented across a region of approximately 7.5 million square kilometers, a population of more than 250 million people and an extensive number of spoken dialects, as well as major differences, when it comes to literacy, living conditions and generational divides. Market-based studies do, however, give us some general information.

In the Arab world, television is still the most popular media outlet despite the global trend towards other platforms. Continue reading

by Sümeyye Kocaman for ISLAMiCommentary on JANUARY 7, 2015:

Sümeyye Kocaman
Sümeyye Kocaman

As we hear more and more about the Caliphate, the ummah, Islamic law and the Islamic State, I am surprised by many things: the so-called experts’ lack of information; how the facts are being politically manipulated; how people of faith are letting religion be used in this minefield; and worse, how people of faith believe that religion can be used to legitimize inhumane, political arguments.

When we hear religion as a political argument — e.g. how an ‘Islamic state’ is needed to provide freedom for Muslims who have been victimized for centuries — we must see this as merely a new wave of nationalism backed up by the power of religious discourse. Religious discourse has the highest potential to mobilize crowds. If the discourse is powerful enough some local groups or even the society at large can be mobilized into an emotional mob that cares little for reason. Their voices — pure political ideology.

In the modern world religion and politics continue to be dangerously intertwined. We can regard this crisis of religion as a chance to reverse a vicious cycle. Continue reading