Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Transcultural Lenses on Islam

Fri, February 7, 2014 | SAC 3.112 Balcony Room B

8:30 AM - 5:00 PM

A Symposium Presented by the Department of Religious Studies*

This symposium brings together six eminent scholars to ask how Islam translates across cultures and geographies. Our goal is to have a conversation across the disciplines—religious studies, history, anthropology, and ethnomusicology—on the transcultural study of Islam.

Breakfast and lunch will be provided.

Complete schedule available here

Chaired by A. Azfar Moin, Southern Methodist University


Topics and Speakers

Frank J. Korom, Boston University

Creating a Transcultural Lens via Sufism to View Sri Lanka and North America

This paper will explore the origins and dynamics of a transnational Sufi brotherhood known as the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, with branches scattered across North America. The Fellowship is intimately linked with the Serendib Sufi Study Circle in Colombo, Sri Lanka, due to the charismatic founder who linked the two groups. The main question considered here is how the traffic between South Asia and North America has transformed each of the two organizations.


Denise A. Spellberg, The University of Texas at Austin

“Muslims, Toleration, and Civil Rights: Islam and the Early Modern Anglo Atlantic World”

Roger Williams’ Providence, Rhode Island, experiment in “soul liberty" included Muslims explicitly since 1644. He mentioned them repeatedly in The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience and again in his metaphorical “ship at sea,” an ideal society in which he advocated a universal form of religious toleration in North America that encompassed “Jews and Turks.” This paper examines the inclusion of Muslims (or Turks, as Williams preferred) as a pivotal moment in a longer arc of transatlantic thought. In this continuum, Roger Williams’ views about Muslims—and the separation of religious freedom from government control—may be traced backward to the first English Baptists and forward to Thomas Jefferson.


Katherine Butler Schofield, King's College London

Sonic Magic: The Supernatural Uses of Islamic Sound-Art in India and the Malay world   

Early-modern Muslims in the eastern Indian Ocean had a rather different view of music's ontologies than we do today. Rather than seeing sound-art as reflective of an individual's or community's identity, they viewed it predominantly as powerful or efficacious: music and sound was thought to exercise significant power over human beings and the natural world. In this paper I will be examining some fairly eclectic evidence for a shared view in 17th- and 18th-century India and the Malay world that sound-art could be used as a source of medicinal and supernatural power.


Engseng Ho, Duke University

Burial and Travel: Mobile Representations of a Transcultural Islam 

This presentation takes an anthropological approach towards Islamic materials without either fragmenting the religion into multiple Islams, or artificially shoe-horning them into the legalistic orthodoxy of a discursive tradition derived solely from Qur'an and hadith. Rather, we will view representations generated as persons moved among Africa, Arabia, South and Southeast Asia. Such materials, found in fixed tombstones and mobile texts, both represent universal ambitions and articulate them with particular regional, cultural and historical concerns. They accord with the Qur'anic spirit of peoples and tribes coming to know one another, in the centuries after Creation.


Shahzad Bashir, Stanford University

Islam in Bureaucratic Imagination: Iranian Secretaries in the Service of Indian Rulers 

In modern academic practice, we often take it for granted that an “Islamic world” exists out there, joining disparate societies on the basis of identification with Islam as a religion. How is this true for cosmopolitan Muslim authors in the pre-modern period? This paper takes up the question by examining chronicles and correspondence produced by scholar-bureaucrats of Iranian origin employed at Indian Muslim courts during the period 1450-1550. It is particularly concerned with these authors’ arguments and narrative techniques that produce translocal Islamic identities needed by their patrons for purposes of political, social, and religious legitimacy.


Barbara Metcalf, University of California, Davis (Emerita)

Renewed Islam, Revitalized Languages: A “Virtual” Nawab Spans Oceans and Continents 

Sayyid Siddiq Hasan Khan (1837-1890), once  a munshi based in the eastern United Provinces, became Prince Consort in 1871 to the ruling Begum of Bhopal. Apart from an earlier hajj and ancillary sojourn in the Hijaz, Siddiq Hasan did not travel beyond India. But in an era some call “the first age of globalization,” thanks to the patronage and communication networks forged by British and Ottoman imperial links, he became a prolific author, an intellectual of reformist Islam, and a disseminator of the works of the Yemeni scholar, Muhammad `Ali ash-Shaukani (d. 1834). He was also known to Ottoman circles engaged in the Arabic literary revival (nahda) of the era. Most emphasis on “transcultural” interactions at the height of colonial rule focuses on “Western”/Indian interaction. Siddiq Hasan, however, stands as an example of cultural interaction facilitated by, but apart from, that emphasis.  


*This symposium was supported generously by The Department of Asian Studies, The South Asia Institute, The Department of Middle Eastern Studies, The Institute of Historical Studies, and the Department of Religious Studies

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