by SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on APRIL 8, 2016:

Seth Kimmel
Seth Kimmel

51M7Ob7M8gL._SL160_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.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH KIMMEL

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.

“Opinion leaders and policy-makers unfortunately have a tendency to equate Lebanese Shi‘ism with Hizbullah and to assume all Shi‘a are connected to Iran. My book documents very different dynamics. I do examine the spread of the Arab-Israeli conflict to Senegal, but this plays out differently in the diaspora than it does in Lebanon. I also illustrate the making of an indigenous African Shi‘ism that, while inspired by the Iranian revolution, does not aim to establish an Islamic government and overthrow Senegal’s secular state. It is important that policy-makers better understand the complexities of the dynamic – not static – Shi‘i Muslim world.” —- Mara Leichtman, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary with MARA LEICHTMAN on MARCH 18, 2016: 

9780253016010_med

Mara Leichtman
Mara Leichtman

This past Fall, Mara Leichtman, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University, published her latest book — Shi‘i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese Migration and Religious Conversion in Senegal (Indiana University Press, 2015). It followed her 2009 edited volume (with Mamadou Diouf) New Perspectives on Islam in Senegal: Conversion, Migration, Wealth, Power, and Femininity (Palgrave Macmillan).

Educated at the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, and Brown University, Leichtman has been a visiting fellow at Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World in Leiden, the Netherlands, and the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University.

How did she come to be interested in the topic of Lebanese Shi‘a in Senegal?

Leichtman told ISLAMiCommentary that while earning her master’s degree in international relations from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University a professor gave her an article about the Lebanese community in Ivory Coast — knowing of her interests in both Africa and the Middle East. It piqued her curiosity.

So when she started the doctoral program in sociocultural anthropology at Brown University, she decided to research the Lebanese community in Abidjan.

“This was in 1999, when there was a coup d’état in Ivory Coast, which is what led me to Senegal, as a more stable option,” she said in a written interview with ISLAMiCommentary.

As her research got underway, Lebanese in Senegal regularly asked her why she wanted to study their community. In response she said she drew upon her origins in Michigan — and its significant Lebanese (and particularly Lebanese Shi‘i) community.

“My mother happened to work at the time with a woman of Lebanese origin who was born in a village in Senegal,” she said. “Lebanese in Senegal were delighted to hear of this personal connection.”

While she set out to study the Shi‘i Lebanese community in West Africa, she didn’t know in advance that she would also find Senegalese Shi‘i converts.

Senegal is predominantly Sunni Muslim (94%) following the Maliki school of jurisprudence with Sufi influences. While Shi‘i Muslims make up only a small minority of the population, Leichtman said the number is growing as Senegalese convert. (Christians make up about 5% of the Senegalese population, and an even smaller demographic continues to practice what is referred to as “African traditional religion.”)

It was the first Lebanese shaykh in Senegal, Shaykh Abdul Mun‘am al-Zayn, who initially told Leichtman that Senegalese were converting to Shi‘i Islam. She was able to eventually connect with Senegalese Shi‘i leaders through Walfadjri, a media conglomerate that hosted a weekly radio show featuring Muslims of different denominations and regularly invited various Senegalese Shi‘a to participate.

In this interview, Leichtman introduces us to these communities and the importance of learning more about them. Continue reading

by SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on DECEMBER 7, 2015:

Saba Mahmood
Saba Mahmood

51nf7rEROzL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_It is commonly thought that violence, injustice, and discrimination against religious minorities, especially in the Middle East, are a product of religious fundamentalism and myopia. Concomitantly, it is often argued, that more of secularism and less of religion represents the solution to this problem.

In her stunning new book Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report (Princeton University Press, 2015), Saba Mahmood, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, brings such a celebratory view of secularism into fatal doubt. Through a careful and brilliant analysis, Mahmood convincingly shows that far from a solution to the problem of interreligious strife, political secularism and modern secular governance are in fact intimately entwined to the exacerbation of religious tensions in the Middle East. Focusing on Egypt and the experience of Egyptian Copts and Bahais, Mahmood explores multiple conceptual and discursive registers to highlight the paradoxical qualities of political secularism, arguing that majority/minority conflict in Egypt is less a reflection of the failure of secularism and more a product of secular discourses and politics, both within and outside the country. Continue reading

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 17, 2015: 

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.

by BANAFSHEH MADANINEJAD for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on NOVEMBER 25, 2015:

Marcia Inhorn
Marcia Inhorn

41UvoUJhaJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Winner of the 2015 Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology, and the American Anthropological Association Winner of the 2014 JMEWS Book Award, The New Arab Man: Emergent Masculinities, Technologies, and Islam in the Middle East (Princeton University Press, 2015) by Marcia C. Inhorn challenges the Western stereotypical image of the Arab man as terrorist, religious zealot, and brutal oppressor of women.

Through stories of ordinary Middle Eastern men as they struggle to overcome infertility and childlessness through assisted reproduction, Inhorn draws on two decades of ethnographic research across the Middle East with hundreds of men from a variety of social and religious backgrounds to show how the new Arab man is self-consciously rethinking the patriarchal masculinity of his forefathers and unseating received wisdoms. This is especially true in childless Middle Eastern marriages where, contrary to popular belief, infertility is more common among men than women. Inhorn captures the marital, moral, and material commitments of couples undergoing assisted reproduction, revealing how new technologies are transforming their lives and religious sensibilities. Continue reading