We at the Duke Islamic Studies Center are pleased to announce that the work of the Carnegie Corporation of New York-supported Transcultural Islam Project (ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN) has been highlighted in a new report by the Social Science Research Council — “Religion, Media and the Digital Turn.” The report surveyed 160 digital projects and documents the effects that digital modes of research and publication have on the study of religion.

“While our primary goal is to chronicle emerging forms of intellectual production shaping the study of religion, we hope that a greater awareness of this new work will generate more recognition of the high quality and innovative work that already exists,” report authors Chris Cantwell (University of Missouri) and Hussein Rashid (New York University) write, explaining that “the most innovative digital projects are often those that creatively combine a number of these models or genres.”

ISLAMiCommentary was mentioned at the top of several subsections, for this reason, and a lengthy case study of ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN has been included in the report (in Appendix 1) because, as the report authors told us, they find the project “exemplary.” Other projects highlighted with lengthy case studies (in Appendix 1) include the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (MAVCOR) at Yale, the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project at the University of Loyola; and Mapping Ararat — a project of York University, the University of Toronto and Emerson College.

Appendix 2 lists the 160 projects surveyed.

The report can be downloaded HERE.

Chris Bail, assistant professor of sociology at Duke University shared the abstract to his latest article: “The Public Life of Secrets: Deception, Disclosure and Discursive Framing in the Policy Process.” See below for link to the full article. 

by CHRIS BAIL for SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY (June 2015 vol. 33no. 2 97-124): 

Chris Bail
Chris Bail

ARTICLE ABSTRACT: While secrecy enables policy makers to escape public scrutiny, leaks of classified information reveal the social construction of reality by the state. I develop a theory that explains how leaks shape the discursive frames states create to communicate the causes of social problems to the public and corresponding solutions to redress them. Synthesizing cultural sociology, symbolic interactionism, and ethnomethodology, I argue that leaks enable non–state actors to amplify contradictions between the public and secret behavior of the state. States respond by “ad hoc–ing” new frames that normalize their secret transgressions as logical extensions of other policy agendas. While these syncretic responses resolve contradictions exposed by leaks, they gradually detach discursive frames from reality and therefore increase states’ need for secrecy—as well as the probability of future leaks—in turn. I illustrate this downward spiral of deception and disclosure via a case study of the British government’s discourse about terrorism between 2000 and 2008.



Christopher A. Bail is assistant professor of sociology at Duke University. By developing new methods for the analysis of large text-based datasets, he examines how political actors and non-profit organizations create cultural change. He is the author of “Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream” (2015) as well as articles in American Sociological Review, Theory and Society, and Sociological Methods and Research.


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compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, TIRN on JULY 21, 2014:  

Here’s some more summer reading . If you have published an article, book, or other publication in the field and would like to share it please email julie.[email protected] 

shared by JEREMY MENCHIK for TIRN on JULY 21, 2014: 

I would like to draw your attention to a paper of mine recently published in the journal Comparative Studies in Society and History:  Productive Intolerance: Godly Nationalism in Indonesia. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 56(3): 591-621.  [ungated]

Abstract: Since democratization, Indonesia has played host to a curious form of ethnic conflict: militant vigilante groups attacking a small, socially marginal religious sect called Ahmadiyah. While most scholars attribute the violence to intolerance by radicals on the periphery of society, this article proposes a different reading based on an intertwined reconfiguration of Indonesian nationalism and religion. I suggest that Indonesia contains a common but overlooked example of “godly nationalism,” an imagined community bound by a shared theism and mobilized through the state in cooperation with religious organizations. This model for nationalism is modern, plural, and predicated on the exclusion of religious heterodoxy. Newly collected archival and ethnographic material reveal how the state’s and Muslim civil society’s long-standing exclusion of Ahmadiyah and other heterodox groups has helped produce the “we-feeling” that helps constitute contemporary Indonesian nationalism. I conclude by intervening in a recent debate about religious freedom to suggest that conflicts over blasphemy reflect Muslim civil society’s effort to delineate an incipient model of nationalism and tolerance while avoiding the templates of liberal secularism or theocracy.

Jeremy Menchik is Assistant Professor of International Relations, Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University. is his web site.

Here is an essay published on ISLAMiCommentary in July by Assistant Professor of Islam and Ministry at Union Theological Seminary Jerusha T. Lamptey, based on her recently released book Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism (New York: Oxford, 2014).

9780199362783In the United States, interreligious collaboration has grown substantially in the last decade. While not triggered by September 11th, the horrific tragedy and trauma of that day certainly increased awareness of the need for interreligious collaboration. This has led to many interfaith dialogues aimed at learning about diverse traditions. It has also led to many interreligious efforts that focus on social justice and community welfare, including disaster relief, youth projects, food banks, and community health programs. The tide of interreligious engagement shows no sides of ebbing; it is not a passing fad. In fact, by all accounts, it is the new norm of mainstream religious communities, including American Muslims.

This practical, on-the-ground embrace of religious pluralism, however, is not automatically indicative of a theological embrace of religious pluralism. In fact, there frequently exists a vast disconnect between theological understandings of religious others and practical action. Some Muslims, for example, are fully committed to interreligious engagement and devote their lives to such work, yet still harbor exclusive theological commitments to the finality and superiority of the religion of Islam. Though from an Islamic standpoint, this does not mean that other religions are completely devoid of divine guidance or value, it nevertheless does imply that the ideal relationship with God is achieved only within the specific tradition of Islam.

Eventually — as is evident in contemporary Islamic scholarship and public discussions — questions about the relationship between practice and theology do arise. Is there any theological justification for practical interreligious engagement? Is it theologically acceptable to befriend and support people outside of one’s own tradition? Is it necessary to value the religious other in order to value interreligious engagement? Does an exclusive theological view negatively impact interreligious engagement, or worse even perpetuate conflict and violence? These questions may be prompted by particular interreligious experiences, but they cannot be answered in relation to those experiences alone. For Muslims, these questions direct them back to the central and most authoritative source for religious knowledge in the Islamic tradition: the Qurʾān.

The Qurʾān, however, does not offer a single or unambiguous perspective on religious pluralism and interreligious engagement. The Qur’anic treatment of these topics is in fact inherently complex. It explicitly and extensively discusses the topic, sometimes referencing specific religious groups, such as the al-naṣārā, yahūd, and ahl ul-kitāb (commonly translated as the Nazarenes/Christians, the Jews and the People of Scripture). But it also uses more general terminology, such as believers, hypocrites, disbelievers, and submitters with reference to members of various religious communities.

The Qurʾān also does not consistently depict religious pluralism as acceptable or unacceptable. At times, it is positively evaluated and at others it is blatantly scorned. READ FULL ESSAY

The following are the intros to Joseph Richard Preville’s two latest “By the Book” Q & As; published this May/June 2014 on ISLAMiCommentary. Happy Reading!

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

9780805091793-199x300How often do we hear from Afghans on their experience in America’s long and exhausting war in Afghanistan? Anand Gopal gives them a voice in his moving book, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes (Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2014).

Gopal, currently a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, covered the War in Afghanistan from 2008-2012 primarily for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. He was living in Manhattan on 9/11, and the shocking experience jolted him to investigate America’s response to the terrorist attack “on a strange and distant battlefield.”

As he travelled throughout Afghanistan, Gopal witnessed the chaos and the wreckage wrought by the “War on Terror,” which became a war of survival for the Afghan people trapped in it.

Gopal takes the title of his book from a Pashtun proverb: “There are no good men among the living, and no bad ones among the dead.” He learned this proverb from a war-weary Afghan man he interviewed.

Gopal writes that for this man, the proverb meant that “there were no heroes, no saviors, in his world. Neither side in the conflict offered much hope for a better future. The categories of the American war on terror – terrorists and non-terrorists, fundamentalists and democrats – mattered little, not when his abiding goal, like that of so many caught in the conflict, was simply to finish each day alive.”

Anand Gopal discusses his book in this interview. READ INTERVIEW

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

Israeli-American businessman, scholar, and activist Rabbi Shai Har-El’s new book — Where Islam and Judaism Join Together: A Perspective on Reconciliation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) — is a powerful meditation on how Jews and Muslims can discover the path to reconciliation, especially in the turbulent Middle East. Har-El shows how that path is illuminated by centuries of common history, shared Abrahamic values, and the fundamental human desire for peace and harmony. He also notes how much work needs to be done on the long journey ahead.

A noted ambassador for peace and reconciliation between Jews and Muslims, Har-El is the founder and current president of the Chicago-based Middle East Peace Network (MEPN). He established this organization in 1990 to serve “as a catalyst for action in the battle for peace in the Middle East.” MEPN believes in “faith diplomacy” and the power of individuals and groups to create peace and to heal conflict though direct action and concrete initiatives.

Born in Israel, Rabbi Har-El was educated at Tel Aviv University and the University of Chicago, and was ordained a rabbi in 2012.

He currently serves as President/CEO of Har-El Financial Group, an American financial consulting firm he founded in 1981. He is also working with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago to launch a Jewish-Muslim Reconciliation Initiative.

Rabbi Har-El discusses his new book (which follows his 1995 monograph, Struggle for Dominion in the Middle East: The Ottoman-Mamluk War, 1485-1491) in this exclusive interview. READ INTERVIEW