WATCH ABOVE: A poetry reading and contextualization of the Islamic Mystic Ibn Al-Arabi by Professor Michael Sells, John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature, University of Chicago Divinity School. (Introduction to Sells by Ellen McLarney, Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature and Culture)

 

An Interview with University of Chicago Islamic History & Literature Professor Michael Sells

by ABDUL LATIF for ISLAMiCommentary on NOVEMBER 3, 2015:

Michael Sells holds a workshop at Duke University on the Qu'ran and it's listeners.
Michael Sells holds a workshop at Duke University on the Qu’ran and it’s listeners.

In early October the University of Chicago’s John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature Michael Sells visited Duke University for two talks; “Translator of Desires” — a poetry reading of the Islamic mystic Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi; and a workshop on the Qur’an and its listeners.

Sells studies and teaches in the areas of Qur’anic studies, Sufism, Arabic and Islamic love poetry, mystical literature (Greek, Islamic, Christian, and Jewish), and religion and violence.

I had the opportunity to sit down with him on October 2 to talk about his research.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

QUESTION: What brought you to the study of Islam and Arabic poetry?

SELLS: In college, I was a student abroad in Italy and we had vacations. In one vacation I went to Tunis. I walked from the French part of the city into the old city and saw the different textures and intricacies of life, and I thought, “This is a culture and a world I want to be involved in.” I subsequently went back to Tunis, and later went to Cairo for a year. There I became fascinated with the pervasiveness of the Qur’an recitation. And Cairo of course was the center of the explosion of the use of radio and cassettes. The great Egyptian reciters played on television, radio. People were reciting in the streets on different occasions, and I became convinced that this was a central aspect of the Qur’an. Continue reading

by GALYM ZHUSSIPBEK for ISLAMiCommentary on SEPTEMBER 18, 2015:

Galym Zhussipbek
Galym Zhussipbek

It can be argued that all radical Muslims who claim to act in the name of Islam, in reality, quite ironically, do not properly understand the very basic pillar of the Islamic creed — Oneness of God (Tawheed) — which they pretend to defend or restore. But the proper belief in Tawheed signifies the utmost humility and an acceptance of diversity and respect for human-kind.

This is currently one of the most-contested principles in Islam, though an Islamic world-view centered around Oneness of God (Tawheed) necessitates the genuine acceptance of pluralism.

There are some powerful calls for a reformation of Islam — propelled by gross human rights violations of human rights perpetrated by some Muslims or by people acting in the name of Islam who have zero tolerance for pluralism and the diversity of human-kind.

Many people, including Muslims themselves may wonder what connects Islamic creed (aqeedah) and this preference for peace and acceptance of pluralism. Continue reading

by IMAN SULTAN for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on AUGUST 24, 2015:

Iman Sultan
Iman Sultan

Granada is renowned as the last stronghold of Andalusian Muslims before the shadow of the Spanish Inquisition descended on the entire peninsula and drove them out. It is the inspiration of teary poets reminiscing of the bygone Golden Age of the Muslim ummah, and the site of political nostalgia among Muslim nationalists. Recently, it has also become a center of epistemic resistance among people from around the world and across different faith groups, nationalities and academic disciplines.

A program called Critical Muslim Studies (CMS), an intensive two-week summer school, convened there in early June with activists, intellectuals and professors who specialize in liberation theology and believe in utilizing religion and spirituality to achieve political justice. Roberto Hernandez — a Latino professor and activist, who had been involved in the Berkeley student strike of 1999 when students took to the streets because the university was disbanding the Ethnic Studies department — was the director of this program.

The Critical Muslim Studies program took place in the old Arab neighborhood of Al-Baizin in Spain. (photo by Iman Sultan)
The Critical Muslim Studies program took place in the old Arab neighborhood of Al-Baizin in Spain. (photo by Iman Sultan)

The location proved key. Ramon Grosfoguel, an ethnic studies professor and critical scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, explained why we were in Granada. The historical city was not only the last outpost of Muslim civilization in Spain, it was the first victim of colonial modernity that was about to sweep the world, and which the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella were forging.  The same tactics used in the Inquisition, he explained, were used in the conquest of the Americas and and in the genocide of indigenous and African peoples. Current-day Granada is fraught with this history and divisive consciousness. Near Plaza Nueva, a public square filled with restaurants and shops, a gigantic statue of Columbus kneeling at Isabella’s feet and giving her his plans for conquest rises into the sky with the beacon of the Alhambra gleaming on the horizon.

Grosfoguel postulated that the Muslim conquest of Iberia was in fact not a conquest, but a liberation. In the 8th century, Spain did not exist as we know it today, but constituted different languages and peoples. The Iberian people were primarily Unitarian Christians and Jews, suffering under the boot of foreign Visigothic rule. An army of 8,000 Muslims (at the most) defeated an army of 150,000 Visigoths in only three years, a seemingly impossible feat. What enabled the Muslims to triumph? The answer lay in the people. The inhabitants of Iberia had not only joined the incoming Muslim armies in liberating themselves, they had also appealed to Morocco several times for help. What resulted? Interfaith relations flourished and there was unity amongst these Mediterranean peoples. The invisible line in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa, West and East, did not exist at the time, but only appeared with The Inquisition and the advent of colonialism.

Continue reading

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.

READ ARTICLE

 

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.

 

Continue reading

by SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on JUNE 23, 2015:

James W. Laine
James W. Laine

Most world religions textbooks follow a structure and conceptual framework that mirrors the modern discourse of world religions as distinct entities reducible to certain defining characteristics. In his provocative and brilliant new book Meta-Religion: Religion and Power in World History (University of California Press, 2015), James Laine, Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College challenges this dominant paradigm of world religions textbooks by showcasing an approach that instead focuses on the interaction of religion and power across time and space.

51DJ88vQeOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_At once ambitious and lucid, Meta-Religion narrates the story of the complex intersection of religion and politics in multiple moments, places, and traditions. A hallmark of this book is the way it engages the religious and political history of Islam and Muslim societies in conversation with other religious traditions. What emerges from this exercise is a rich and fascinating picture of the complicated and at times conflicting ways in which religiously diverse and plural societies have been managed through particular political arrangements and ideologies in different historical moments.

In our conversation we talked about the idea of meta-religion, different varieties of meta-religion in India, Rome, and China, the marginalization of Islam and Muslim history in Euro-American world historical periodizations, Meta-Religion in Muslim history, Akbar and his experimentation with meta-religion, and meta-religion in the modern and contemporary context. This book will be of great interest to specialists in Islamic Studies and other scholars of religion and religious history; it will also make an excellent text for courses on Islam and world history, Introduction to Religion, and on theories and methods in Religious Studies.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH LAINE

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.