June, 30 to July 01, 2022
By some recollections, the Arab Spring was characterized by God’s presence. “God is with us,” chanted some as they protested in the streets. “God is great,” proclaimed others as blood was shed. Remembered differently, the events of 2010-11 could only be the product of God’s absence. Where was God when an impoverished Tunisian street vendor, overcome by the injustices of his life, set himself on fire? Which images of God were backgrounded when Egyptians united in their demand for “bread, freedom, justice?” It would seem that, in presence as much as absence, God was a force to contend with during the Arab Spring. Islamist movements, populist uprisings, entrenched regimes, rebellious youth, desperate breadwinners, and secular intellectuals were among those who found themselves– in some form or fashion –reckoning with God in these tumultuous times. This workshop explores the aftermath of this human reckoning with the divine, asking how we as scholars might reckon with these exchanges in our own analyses.
Indeed, the reverberations of the Arab Spring can still be felt today, a decade later. Countries like Syria, Libya, and Yemen remain in economic and political turmoil. Mass protests, a banking crisis, and a pandemic have pushed Lebanon to the brink. Even in states seemingly spared the consequences of 2010-11—those in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), for instance—populations do not remain unaffected by regional tumult, with a rise in state-engineered attempts to manage financial crises while enshrining the “moderate” Islam necessary for political and economic stability. Across the Arab world, a post-Arab Spring disillusionment with religious authority has been particularly pronounced among the youth, who have been deemed unequivocally “less religious” than their parents. This post-Arab Spring “hope, frustration, and ambivalence” materializes differently in each context; so too do the divine and social relations which stem from these conditions of political, economic, and moral uncertainty. Who, and where, is God in the Arab world today? How do people’s relations to God and to each other, through God, materialize? How does God bridge between people, and how does God divide? How are these relations colored and complicated by divergent understandings of proper ethical practice, divine decree, and the afterlife?
These questions lie at the heart of this workshop, in which we reflect upon how God-human relations are colored by the socio-economic and political circumstances in which they are cultivated. In our conversations, as in the lives of believers, God is not a rigidly defined, unchanging being borne of ageless scripture and theology, but a figure which emerges through people’s self-reflection and their interactions with others in a specific setting. An analysis of this process offers insight not only into what religiosity and selfhood looks like among believers in the contemporary present-day Arab world, but also what notions of God and God-human relations drive this devotion. Our explorations also accord ethnographic attention to God, an otherwise marginal figure in much anthropological scholarship on religion.
As part of the workshop, Yasmin Moll (University of Michigan) will deliver a keynote address and public research seminar. This event is open to the public and will take place at the OIB on June 30 from 15:30-17:30.
Can There Be a Godly Ethnography? Islamic Anthropology, Decolonization and the Ethnographic Stance
Can there be a Godly ethnography? In this talk, I explore how the epistemological implications of this question trouble our taken-for-granted notions about what decolonizing anthropology demands. In most accounts, decolonization means opening up new possibilities for more just futures by interrogating Eurocentric ways of knowing and centering marginalized histories and perspectives as good to think with, not merely about. I argue that far from being a radical challenge, such decolonizing calls belong to secular liberal anthropology. The norms they presuppose take paradigmatic form in the ethnographic stance, which requires the anthropologist to take difference seriously as a way towards self-transformation. This stance needs to be provincialized, because it belongs to particular traditions of critical inquiry and their attendant emancipatory politics that are secular and, on the whole, liberal. A Godly ethnography, as put forth in the 1980s call for an “Islamic anthropology” by Muslim scholars working within a broader Islamization of knowledge paradigm in both the Anglo-American and Arab academies, presents a disciplinary challenge to such a stance in that the study of difference is oriented neither towards self-determination nor solidarity, but towards divine devotion. It is precisely this salvific telos that makes Islamic anthropology difficult to reconcile with the ethic of “taking seriously” that motivates anthropological calls for decolonization. This tension, I contend, requires that we disentangle the question of epistemological decolonization from political liberation, including in our analyses of the multiple afterlives of the Arab Spring.
Yasmin Moll is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. Her research and writing on Islamic television in revolutionary Egypt have been supported by numerous national grants and fellowships, including from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the Fulbright-Hays Program. Her publications include articles in Cultural Anthropology, Public Culture, The International Journal of Middle East Studies, and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, among others. She is also a documentary filmmaker and a former member of the Michigan Society of Fellows. She received her PhD in anthropology from New York University in 2015.
This workshop is organized by Dr. Joud Alkorani, an Assistant Professor of Islam Studies at Radboud University in the Netherlands and currently a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the OIB.
While this is a closed workshop, there is space for a limited number of registered guests. Draft papers will be circulated and read prior to the workshop, and there will be no papers presented during the meeting. Instead, each paper will receive 45 minutes of discussion and constructive feedback from participants. Registered guests are required to read the draft papers and invited to provide comments.
Those interested in attending the workshop as registered guests should contact Dr. Joud Alkorani by June 17 at the latest. She can be reached at email@example.com. Please include a few sentences on your interest in the workshop theme.