Anthropology/Sociology


by Kathryn Zyskowski, Cultural Anthropology

Click here to read the five articles and interviews with the authors.

This collection gathers together five articles previously published in Cultural Anthropology, by Naveeda Khan, Hayder Al-Mohammad, Carolyn Rouse and Janet Hoskins, Kenneth George, and Arzoo Osanloo. The collection also includes interviews with the authors, who reflect on their work, as well a commentary on the whole collection from Charles Hirschkind. The articles engage with everyday aspects of living, negotiating, and constructing the world among contemporary Muslims. Moving beyond a focus on the aesthetics of dress, gender relations, or the text in Islam, the collection crosses national boundaries and thematic areas, touching on the immense diversity of nations, peoples, languages, and ideas that fall under the category of Islam. A broad array of ethnographic material is included in the collection: gathering to eat soul food in Los Angeles, navigating a kidnapping in post-invasion Iraq, a child’s relationship to a jinn (spirit/ghost) during sectarian violence in Karachi, discourses around justice in media and conversation surrounding a young man’s death sentence in Iran, and debates about the production of Islamic art in Indonesia.
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These articles are freely available until 31 January 2015 on the Brill Website.

Islamic Law in the Modern World
Author: Aharon Layish
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 276-307)

An Epistemic Shift in Islamic Law
Author: Aria Nakissa
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 209-251)

Reconstructing Archival Practices in Abbasid Baghdad
Author: Maaike van Berkel
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 7-22)

The Early Ḥanafiyya and Kufa
Author: Christopher Melchert
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 23-45)

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By Timothy Daniels, Guest Contributor, New Mandala, October 6, 2014

There appears to be no end to the war between several western powers—leaders in the global capitalist world order—and Muslim militants. Both sides are spiralling into some form of mutually assured destruction. Fragile “modern” nation-states, formed under the influence of European colonial forces in the early twentieth century, are crumbling and revealing their inability to deliver the promised fruits of secular modernity. Millions of Muslims are being killed, thousands are fleeing for their lives, and centuries old sites of Islamic civilisations are being decimated, while war-stressed western economies are declining into the shadows of China’s great industrial leap forward.

In the face of the current phase of this violent confrontation ushered in by the emergence and establishment of a militant-led Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, many officials of western governments and Muslim leaders are making public statements that include the positive representation of Islam as a “religion of peace.” Linguistic anthropologists or any other social scientists seeking to provide a serious scholarly analysis of such discourse would examine the context and what the speakers are trying to do. Here, some of the social meanings of these statements may include efforts to reinforce the peace-loving posture of the majority of Muslims and to calm the fears of non-Muslims, many of whom have already begun to resort to acts of violence against fellow citizens perceived to be Muslims. However, this scholarly tack is not the approach Clive Kessler chose.

Clive Kessler, a Columbia University trained Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales, chose to interrogate the truth value of discourse expressing the positive representation of Islam “as a religion of peace.” In the article, “The Islamic State and ‘Religion of Peace,’” published online in the Quadrant on September 26, 2014, Kessler tells us that he finds this description of Islam to be “bland, disingenuous, intellectually lazy, delusional, politically evasive, and altogether simplistic.” He wants us to have a clear idea of what we’re confronted with in order to devise an “effective response.”
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There is an extraordinary collection of 47 Magic Lantern slides from the 1930 Beloit College Logan Museum Expedition to Algeria by George L. Waite, the photographer and cinematographer. This is available in an online collection at the website of the Smithsonian Institution. Click here to access the collection.

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At a juice bar in Cairo, two men posed by a photograph of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. The general has become a popular figure among many Egyptians; Narciso Contreras for The New York Times

The future of Egyptian democracy: Islamism beyond the Muslim Brotherhood

by Yasmin Moll, The Immanent Flame, August 29

A few weeks after the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the New York Times ran this headline: “Egyptian Liberals Embrace the Military, Brooking No Dissent.” The accompanying photograph showed a man with a full beard and shaved moustache in the Salafi style, a prominent prayer mark (a “raisin” in the Egyptian vernacular) on his forehead. Behind the man is a wallpaper of Muslim pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba in Mecca. A framed portrait of then-general and coup master Abdel Fattah el-Sisi leans against beige tiles stickered with several Qur’anic verses. The headline limits the military’s support base to (secular) liberals, while the image shows us it actually extends beyond this narrow stratum.

With some exceptions, such as analyses published in this series, most scholarly accounts dovetail with media framings of Egypt’s fraught political scene since the 2011 revolution as primarily a struggle between secularism and Islamism. But the “secularism versus Islamism” narrativ­e is a political one—it performs important legitimizing labor for a plethora of social actors in Egypt, from the Brotherhood­ to deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak’s allies and both liberal and leftist activists alike. It is, however, of very limited analytical utility in making critical sense of what is actually at stake in the current impasse for the many Egyptians who do not subscribe to a secularized conception of government, yet whose religiosity cannot be conflated with the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood. (more…)

By Sheila Carapico, Middle East Research and Information Project, July 1, 2014

* This memo was prepared as part of the “Ethics and Research in the Middle East” symposium

American political scientists studying the Middle East face ethical dilemmas not shared by most of our disciplinary colleagues. Sometimes – perhaps unexpectedly – our presence in countries or communities experiencing repression and/or political violence puts our local colleagues, hosts, or contacts at risk by association. The massive U.S. military footprint and widespread mistrust of U.S. policies and motives multiplies the risks to our interlocutors.

The trademark methodology of American Arabists is fieldwork, meaning, in political science, in-depth interviews, participant observation, data collection, document-gathering, opinion polling, political mapping, and recording events. As sojourners but not permanent residents, we rely heavily on the wisdom, networks, and goodwill of counterparts “on the ground,” particularly other intellectuals.

In any environment where agencies of national, neighboring, and U.S. governments are all known to be gathering intelligence, our research projects may look and sound like old-fashioned espionage. Even under the very best of circumstances (which are rather scarce) a lot of people are wary or suspicious of all Americans, including or sometimes especially Arabic speakers who ask a lot of questions and take notes. Immediate acquaintances probably grasp and trust our inquiries. Their neighbors or nearby security personnel may not. It is common knowledge that at least some spies and spooks come in academic disguise and that some U.S.-based scholars sell their expertise to the CIA or the Pentagon. Instead of treating whispered gossip as the product of mere paranoia or conspiracy theories, we need to recognize its objective and sociological underpinnings. (more…)


Muslim Council of Britain says female genital mutilation is ‘un-Islamic’

Group issues explicit guidance for the first time, condemning practice which it says is no longer linked to religious teaching

by Alexandra Topping, The Guardian, June 23

The Muslim Council of Britain, the country’s largest Muslim organisation, has condemned the practice of female genital mutilation as “un-Islamic” and told its members that FGM risks bringing their religion into disrepute.

The influential MCB has for the first time issued explicit guidance, which criticises the practice and says it is “no longer linked to the teaching of Islam”. It added that one of the “basic principles” of Islam was that believers should not harm themselves or others.

The organisation will send flyers to each of the 500 mosques that form its membership, which will also be distributed in community centres in a drive to eradicate a practice that affects 125 million women and girls worldwide and can lead to psychological torment, complications during childbirth, problems with fertility, and death. (more…)

By Sheila Carapico, Middle East Research and Information Project, July 14

* This memo was prepared as part of the “Ethics and Research in the Middle East” symposium

American political scientists studying the Middle East face ethical dilemmas not shared by most of our disciplinary colleagues. Sometimes – perhaps unexpectedly – our presence in countries or communities experiencing repression and/or political violence puts our local colleagues, hosts, or contacts at risk by association. The massive U.S. military footprint and widespread mistrust of U.S. policies and motives multiplies the risks to our interlocutors.

The trademark methodology of American Arabists is fieldwork, meaning, in political science, in-depth interviews, participant observation, data collection, document-gathering, opinion polling, political mapping, and recording events. As sojourners but not permanent residents, we rely heavily on the wisdom, networks, and goodwill of counterparts “on the ground,” particularly other intellectuals.

In any environment where agencies of national, neighboring, and U.S. governments are all known to be gathering intelligence, our research projects may look and sound like old-fashioned espionage. Even under the very best of circumstances (which are rather scarce) a lot of people are wary or suspicious of all Americans, including or sometimes especially Arabic speakers who ask a lot of questions and take notes. Immediate acquaintances probably grasp and trust our inquiries. Their neighbors or nearby security personnel may not. It is common knowledge that at least some spies and spooks come in academic disguise and that some U.S.-based scholars sell their expertise to the CIA or the Pentagon. Instead of treating whispered gossip as the product of mere paranoia or conspiracy theories, we need to recognize its objective and sociological underpinnings. (more…)

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