Conferences and Talks




Illegal excavations and military use have recently endangered Palmyra, Syria, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: UNESCO/Ron von Oers

by Shatha Almutawa, American Historical Association, April 2014

A car bomb exploded outside the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo on January 24, 2014. The Egyptian Heritage Rescue Team arrived on the scene and began to assess the damage and prepare artifacts to be moved to another building. Trained by the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, the Egyptian volunteers worked with museum staff until all the artwork was safely relocated.

In Syria, following the destruction of the minaret at Aleppo’s Umayyad Mosque last spring, people made their way to the mosque to save the stones for later rebuilding. Some lost their lives in the process. The mosque had been used by rebels, the Syrian army was attacking from the outside, and fighting continued as volunteers worked to protect the stones. As political instability continues in the wake of the Arab Spring, cultural heritage sites and objects are often endangered.

Scholars and activists working on issues relating to the preservation of cultural heritage in the Middle East convened on February 28 at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery to discuss the Arab Spring’s impact on monuments, historic neighborhoods, and culture in the region. Lisa Ackerman, executive vice president and chief operating officer at World Monuments Fund, spoke about the importance of providing training to communities around historic sites in times of peace and after conflicts, so that locals can preserve their own heritage. She also mentioned the reality that in times of war, troops are trained to find strategic locations to use as bases; historic sites, as she explained in a later e-mail, “are often located in strategic positions with existing infrastructure, such as roads and nearby accommodations, or, as we’ve seen in Syria, are often situated at the highest points, providing a location advantage.” As an example, the US Army in Iraq chose Babylon for its Camp Alpha, which resulted in damages to its ancient walls and gates. (more…)


Prince in a Garden Courtyard. Folio from an illustrated manuscript (detail). 1525-30, Iran. Opaque watercolor, ink, gold, and silver on paper, 8 9/16 x 4 3/4in. (21.7 x 12.1cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.39.1)

Islamic Art, Culture, and Politics: The Connections

Tuesday, April 1, 2014, 6 pm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

With Peter Brown, Yasmine El Rashidi, Haleh Esfandiari, Shaul Bakhash, and Navina Najat Haidar, Curator, Department of Islamic Art

The New York Review of Books and Met Museum Presents examine the living traditions of the Islamic world, in the setting of modern conflict and variations in Muslim culture. Editor Robert Silvers brings together a group of contributors for a panel discussion on the interconnectedness of art and ethos.

Save $5 per ticket with code NYRB14 at metmuseum.org. Offer expires March 30.


Anouar Majid, far right; Olivier Roy to the left

by Anouar Majid, Tingitana, March 6, 2014

Olivier Roy gave a spirited and light-hearted lecture at Oslo’s Litteraturhuset on secularism Islam and the West, followed by comments from a Norwegian expert on terrorism and myself. As happens to me nowadays, I chose not to comment on, or highlight, the finer points of his critical analysis of the terms “secular” and “religious,” but to express my barely disguised exasperation with the tropes that have blocked the Muslims’ mind for more than two centuries. The question, in the end, is not whether religion is misread, or whether it is good or not, but whether we are condemned to define ourselves in terms penned down for us by scribes from antiquity and the early medieval period. I don’t care much about secularism, but I do lament the waste of our mental faculties and our entrapment in mythologies that are totally dissociated from our current experiences. The prophets of Scripture spoke the languages of their people; who will speak for us today? –


Traditional Plow Agriculture in highland Yemen, for which there are many proverbs

When “Being There” is Here: An Anthropologist at Large in Digital Humanities

On Wednesday, March 5, I will be giving a talk at the CUNY Graduate Center for the Program on Religion, directed by Prof. Bryan Turner. Lunch will be served, and coffee too, of course. The talk will be in room 5307 of the Graduate Center at 34th St. and 5th Avenue, 12.30-2 (lunch served from 12.15), to discuss a topic pertinent to many disciplines.

Abstract:

The aim of this talk is to explore the role of traditional field-based ethnography in the rapidly evolving world of digital humanities. I look back on my original ethnographic fieldwork in Yemen in 1978-79, before there was an Internet or laptop computer. While technology has long been an important resource for anthropologists, the digital world allows for instantaneous contact in a way never available before. There is now a role for e-ethnography, analysis of representation and communication in cyberspace in which the field literally comes to the computer of the researcher. The talk will explore the implications of recent advances in the digital humanities on the nature and future of anthropological research.

Daniel Martin Varisco is President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies. He is the founding editor of CyberOrient, an online journal co-sponsored by the American Anthropological Association and Charles University in Prague. His last book was Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid (2007) and he is currently finishing a book titled Culture Still Matters: Notes from the Field.

by Anouar Majid, Tingitana, March 1, 2014

With the intriguing illustration above, Afternposten, the largest Norwegian newspaper, published my article titled “Europe and the Challenge of Islam.” This is the opening salvo of a three-day event called Saladin Days that starts Monday in Oslo’s House of Literature, when I will give a keynote address by the same title. We will, in the course of the conference, discuss and debate issues related to religion, secularism and reflect critically on the legacy of Edward Said, the great literary and cultural theorist.

For anyone interested in the Washington DC area, I will be speaking at Georgetown University on Feb. 26 about Islamophobia. Details are here.

For more information on this upcoming conference at Columbia University, click here.

THURSDAY 27

8.30 – 9.30 am: Registration (Knox Lobby) and Light Breakfast (Knox 207 and 208)

9.30 – 10.30 am: Welcome Remarks (Matan Cohen) and Plenary Address (Sudipta Kaviraj) – Knox 208

SESSION 1: 10.45 am – 12.45 pm

Scanning the Shelves of the African Islamic Library – Knox 207

Wendell Marsh
Reading Sudanic Africa in the Margins: the Perils of Commentary

Kimberly Wortmann
Intellectual Cartographies in the Medieval Western Sahel (c. 1464-1627)

Ariela Marcus-Sells
Spells and Prayers: Discussing Muslim Practice in Saharan Society

Lori De Lucia
On the Edges of Mediterranean History: Finding Evidence for Sub-Saharan African Narratives in the 16th Century Kingdom of Naples

Discussant: Mamadou Diouf
Moderator: Tommaso Manfredini (more…)

This video interview with Talal Asad (Professor of Anthropology, Graduate Center of
the City University of New York), recorded in 2008, is well worth watching. Harry Kreisler welcomes Professor Talal Asad who reflects on his life and work as an anthropologist focusing on religion, modernity, and the complex relationships between Islam and the West.

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