Mahmoud A. El-Gamal, an economist who hadn’t lived in Egypt for almost 30 years, says his interest in becoming provost of the American University in Cairo surprised even himself. But “if I’m going to contribute to any improvement in Egypt, it will be within that little crucible of AUC,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to give back to my alma mater and my homeland.”

Mr. El-Gamal, who is 51, left his native country for the United States in 1985 to study at Stanford University and then Northwestern. Since 1998 he has been a professor of economics and statistics at Rice University, and he chaired its department of economics from 2008 to 2011. He has also worked at the California Institute of Technology, the International Monetary Fund, and the U.S. Treasury Department. He is an expert in Islamic finance, the growing field of banking and financial instruments that accommodate Islamic law’s ban on charging interest.



Hosted by the University of Cambridge, 8-9 April 2015

***Deadline: 15 November 2014***

Applications are warmly invited for papers that relate to any aspect of Iranian studies in any discipline within the humanities and social sciences. This includes but is by no means limited to: ancient through to contemporary history and historiography; anthropology; archaeology; cultural heritage and conservation; social and political theory; Diaspora and area studies; ecology and the environment; economics; historical geography; history of medicine; art and architecture history; education; international relations and political science; epigraphy, languages, literature, linguistics and philology; new media and communication studies; philosophy; religions and theology; classical studies; sociology; film studies and the performing arts. Comparative themes and interdisciplinary approaches are also very welcome. Continue reading


What can the past tell us about the present? This question, once the bedrock of historical enquiry, faded from the academic imagination after the post-structural turn. As utilitarian and deterministic understandings of the past came under attack for ossifying ‘traditions’, a new periodization took shape–now familiar to anthropologists and historians alike–of a post-colonial present separated from its ‘authentic’ past by the unbridgeable gulf of European imperialism and colonial modernity. The workshop aims to probe the limits of this approach by bringing together anthropologists and historians interested in exploring the manifold relationships various pasts have with the present day world.

The workshop will focus on Muslim societies as the primary context to conceptualize the interplay between historical inquiry and analysis of emergent social forms*. Our interest in Muslims societies is driven by the recent academic work on Muslim empires and networks (see Bibliography section). The emergent scholarship on networks and empires, venture beyond both postcolonial and textual approaches to Islam to highlight the complicated relationship of Muslim societies with the cultural geography of Eurasia, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. However, despite employing anthropological categories of analysis, this scholarship has yet to engage with ethnographic work on present day Muslim societies. To initiate a conversation between these ships passing in the night, we hope to press historians of Muslim empires and networks to speak about the past’s resonances with the discourses, practices, and structures explored in ethnographies. Conversely, we encourage anthropologists working on emerging social networks and political struggles in the broader Muslim world to focus, not only on the conditions of postmodernity, neoliberalism, and globalization, but also on regionally specific histories and memories, no matter how layered, distorted, or uneven. Continue reading

ISLAMiCommentary/TIRN editor’s note: There seems to be no end to controversies and misunderstandings surrounding veiling. Here is a Q & A with Islamic studies professor Sahar Amer on her new book “What is Veiling” followed by an op-ed she wrote for the online journal “The Conversation” on debates on veiling in Australia. Amer also did an interview with NPR’s “Here and Now” which you can listen to below as well. 


Sahar Amer, author of What is Veiling? (University of North Carolina Press, Fall 2014), talks with Caroline Rudolph about one of Islam’s most misunderstood and controversial practices.

Caroline Rudolph: What is Veiling? is the first in a series of books from UNC Press that will explain key aspects of Islam. Why might the topic of veiling be an appropriate starting point for such a series?

Sahar Amer
Sahar Amer

Sahar Amer: Veiling is one of the most visible signs of Islam as a religion and likely its most controversial and least understood tradition among non-Muslims, and perhaps surprisingly, among Muslims as well. Many non-Muslim and Muslim readers are often unfamiliar with the religious interpretations and debates over the Islamic prescription to wear the veil, the historical and political background to current anxieties surrounding the veil, or the range of meanings the veil continues to have for Muslim women around the world. In many ways, understanding the complex and often contradictory meanings of veiling is also understanding how Islam has come to mean so many different things to different peoples.

Continue reading


One rarely uses the term booming in publishing these days, but it’s fair to say that academic publishing about Islam is doing just that. New books are diverse in subject matter and house of origin, as this major religion’s world-shaping influence is being more closely examined.

University of North Carolina Press has three installments in its Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks series. Sahar Amer’s What Is Veiling? (Sept.) will be joined in April 2015 by Ebrahim Moosa’s What Is Madrasa? and Bruce Lawrence’s Who Is Allah? Elaine Maisner, senior executive editor at the press, says more books are in the works to join this series. “Islamic studies is continuing to trend,” she notes. “We are interested in Islamic studies beyond the conventional link with fundamentalism, and we are finding some interesting work in the area of lived religion, and of progressive Islam.”

For publishers that can successfully hit the sweet spot in books on Islam in America—they need to be fresh enough to merit scholarly attention, but also mainstream enough for course adoption—the rewards can be great. At NYU, the 1998 title Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas has sold nearly 20,000 copies and was reissued in 2013 in a 15th-anniversary edition.

Oxford University Press has long had a deep list on the subject, and several key themes characterize its new titles in the field. Senior editor Theo Calderara says OUP’s newest releases investigate the history of Islam (In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire by Robert G. Hoyland, Oct.) and consider the complex relationships of Islam and politics (What Is an American Muslim? Embracing Faith and Citizenship by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Feb.). In addition to producing its signature hefty handbooks on aspects of Islam, the press is adding to its Qur’anic studies program with such titles as Feminist Edges of the Qur’an by Aysha A. Hidayatullah (May).