In his path clearing new book, Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Seth Kimmel, Assistant Professor of Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia University, presents a fascinating account of how conversion from Islam to Christianity was imagined, debated, and contested in early modern Spain. Shifting focus from the experiences of converts to intellectual discussions and disputes on matters such as coercion and assimilation, Kimmel demonstrates that such discussions were intimately tied to not only questions of religious reform but also to the demarcation of varied scholarly disciplines within Christianity. It is this nexus of knowledge, religious reform, and conversion that this book brilliantly explores and uncovers.
Questioning binaries such as tolerance/intolerance and religious/secular, Kimmel highlights the complex material, intellectual, and political conditions and considerations that informed scholarly engagements with the questions and puzzles of religious conversion in early Modern Spain. In our conversation, we talked about the major themes and arguments of the book and its striking relevance to discourses on religious tolerance in the present. Parables of Coercion is at once beautifully written and unusually multilayered for a first book. It will also make an excellent choice for courses on Muslim-Christian relations, early modern religion, religious conversion, secularism, and Islamic Spain.
In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project of which TIRN is a part), announced its official institutional affiliation with New Books in Islamic Studies — a bi-weekly audio podcast featuring hour long conversations with authors of exciting new research. For an archive see HERE.
by ALI OLOMI for ISLAMiCommentary on MARCH 30, 2016:
In March 2016 Payam Feili, a young Iranian poet, took refuge in Israel because he faced persecution in his home country for being openly gay. Feili’s situation is not unique for many LGBTQ individuals in the Middle East. Homosexuality is a crime in nearly two dozen Muslim countries carrying severe punishments in ten of those counties.
While it is tempting to ascribe this to Islam, the historical context is more nuanced and complex.
The status of LGBTQ rights in the Muslim world today is perplexing given that Islamic history is characterized by its relative tolerance of sexual diversity and same-sex desire.
Though homosexuality as an identity and category is a predominantly modern construction, gay, lesbian, transgender, and intersex individuals have always been present in history.
From the time of Prophet Muhammad on, intersex individuals known as mukhannathum lived in Islamic society and occupied publicly visible, though sometimes marginalized spaces. Many of these individuals, like Gharid and Al Dalal, were openly gay and had lovers. They enjoyed positions as musicians and intermediaries between men and women in the role of matchmakers. In both Umayyad and Abbasid history, gay individuals were not only present, but quite public. The first time they faced state violence was at the hands of Caliph Sulayman ibn Abd-al Malik. The 10th century historian, Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani writes in his Kitab al-Aghani that Sulayman had all the mukhannathum castrated, not because of their sexual desires, but because their music had distracted one of his lovers while she was attending him. Continue reading →
by ROXANNE PANCHASI for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on JANUARY 5, 2016:
Mayanthi Fernando‘s The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism (Duke University Press, 2014) is an important and provocative book. Drawing on years of field work, the book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the complex interactions between religion and politics in contemporary France. Considering the Islamic revival and public debates provoked initially by the “headscarf crisis” of the late 1980s, the book examines the ethical, social, and political lives of the Muslim French men and women whose religiosity is so often regarded as “incommensurable” with the democratic culture and politics of the nation. Continue reading →
by ALI A. OLOMI for ISLAMiCommentary on JULY 17, 2015:
Since the legalization of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26th 2015, various religious groups have responded to the ruling. Muslim Americans, who themselves are a minority group in the United States, have struggled to find consensus.
Some have openly condemned the ruling. Others have urged a more hesitant acceptance of the court’s decision. Cognizant of the precarious position of minorities in the United States, Imam Suhaib Webb posted an online message where he encouraged a nuanced perspective that respected the ruling and supported it politically, while acknowledging the theological and ethical dilemmas for conservative Muslims. A group of Afghan American thinkers and activists on The Samovar Network took a more accepting stance when they held an online panel (via a Google hangout) and showed support for the ruling and the LGBTQ community as a whole.
Author, Reza Aslan and comedian, Hasan Minhaj wrote an open letter, published in Religion Dispatches, to Muslim Americans encouraging acceptance and tolerance, reminding Muslims that they too are a minority in the United States and should stand for the rights of their fellow minorities.
People were surprised by the letter and some have attributed the position of the authors to Western influence. Popular representations in America and Europe, tend to depict Muslims as staunchly against same-sex marriage. But I would point out that positions like Reza’s and others like him actually highlight a forgotten part of Islamic history. Continue reading →
LISTEN: Peter Gottschalk on “Religion, Science and Empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India”
by KRISTIAN PETERSEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on APRIL 13, 2015:
When did religion begin in South Asia? Many would argue that it was not until the colonial encounter that South Asians began to understand themselves as religious. In Religion, Science, and Empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India (Oxford University Press, 2012), Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, outlines the contingent and mutual coalescence of science and religion as they were cultivated within the structures of empire. He demonstrates how the categories of Hindu and Muslim were constructed and applied to the residents of the Chainpur nexus of villages by the British despite the fact that these identities were not always how South Asians described themselves.
Throughout this study we are made aware of the consequences of comparison and classification in the study of religion. Gottschalk engages Jonathan Z. Smith’s modes of comparison demonstrating that seemingly neutral categories serve ideological purposes and forms of knowledge are not arbitrary in order. Here, we observe this work through imperial forms of knowledge production in South Asia, including the roles of cartographers, statisticians, artists, ethnographers, and photographers. Continue reading →