On Jewish Studies and the Study of Islam

An image of the book

The following excerpt is from Sarah Imhoff’s contribution to the newly released volume Identity, Politics, and the Study of Islam: Current Dilemmas in the Study of Religionswith Culture on the Edge Books Series (Equinox Publishing).

The field of Jewish studies is full of Jews. This is obvious. It is also surprising, for two reasons. First, the diversity of Jewish studies scholars compares unfavourably with other religion-related fields. Islamic studies currently has a sufficient mix of Muslim and non-Muslim scholars to create a heated debate about epistemology, apology and the study of Islam. Jewish studies still has relatively few non-Jewish scholars of Judaism, although the number is growing. … While Islamic studies in American traces much of its history through Orientalism — non-Muslims studying Muslims and Islamic civilizations–the dominant narrative of Jewish studies begins with Jews studying Judaism. Although Jewish studies is my primary field, I have found that reflecting on Islamic studies has made me think more clearly about Jewish studies. I hope the reverse also proves true — that reflecting on Jewish studies will offer fruitful parallels with, as well as distinctions from, many of the larger issues at play in Islamic studies (121-122).

– Sarah Imhoff, “Jews, Jewish Studies and the Study of Islam”

Identity, Politics, and the Study of Islam: An Interview with Matt Sheedy

An image of This interview is part of a series of interviews on new books from the Culture on the Edge book series with Equinox publishing. 

This edited volume began in response to a debate between two scholars who study Islam, Omid Safi and Aaron Hughes. Can you introduce the main issues of that debate?

The idea for this book came out of a “debate” between Omid Safi and Aaron Hughes back in early 2014. The initial salvo came when Safi published an essay on Jadaliyya, “Reflections on the State of Islamic Studies,” where he characterized Hughes’s work as “grossly polemical and simplistic,” though without providing any specific evidence for this claim. Hughes replied on the Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog (where I was then editor), challenging Safi to “do what the Western tradition of scholarly discourse demands and respond to my ideas in print as opposed to engaging in innuendo and identity politics.” After some preliminary discussion on Facebook, where we considered the possibility of a more substantive exchange on the Bulletin blog, Safi decided not to engage further on this forum.

In the interest of expanding the conversation I asked a number of scholars of religion to comment on some of the issues raised in these two blog posts, with an emphasis on the following tension: whereas Safi’s reflections on Islamic Studies stress the role of feminist, post-colonial, and anthropological approaches, and laud scholars who work between the academy and the community for political ends (e.g., see Safi’s edited book Progressive Muslims), Hughes argues that the emphasis on identity politics in much of Islamic Studies contributes to the persistence of apologetics and inhibits the kind of critical scholarship that religious studies ought be striving for. Subsequent to this, more responses were published in a special issue of the Bulletin’s journal, which became the starting point for this book. In this volume a few of the same contributors expand their original pieces, along with five new essays, including an afterword from Russell McCutcheon. Continue reading “Identity, Politics, and the Study of Islam: An Interview with Matt Sheedy”

What Are You Doing Saturday?

red buttons that say The Culture on the Edge collective frequently addresses the relevance of various questions about origins, identifications, and discourse that reflect issues in Religious Studies, but we apply those questions to aspects of society not typically identified as religious. These ideas are a part of a Culture on the Edge panel at the Southeast Regional AAR/SECSOR meeting this coming weekend in Atlanta. Vaia Touna and Steven Ramey will participate in a panel on Saturday March 5 entitled “Culture on the Edge Grounded and Applied: The Wider Relevance of the Study of Religion”. If you are planning to attend the conference or happen to be close enough to show up on Saturday, we would love to chat with you and hear your thoughts on applying issues in Religious Studies more broadly. Continue reading “What Are You Doing Saturday?”

Making the Case for the Critical Study of Religion

The cover of Writing Religion Edited by Steven W. RameySteven Ramey, one of the collaborators on Culture on the Edge, has published an edited volume with the University of Alabama Press that features contributions from a number of scholars whose work has influenced members of Culture on the Edge. With his Introduction and an Afterword from Russell McCutcheon, the volume as a whole demonstrates the potential of the critical study of religion for both relevant research and the development of a thriving academic department.

The volume has ten main chapters, written by each of the Aronov Lecturers over the first ten years of that series at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, where several of us teach. The Aronov Lecture each year features an internationally recognized scholar, selected by the Religious Studies faculty, whose work is considered widely relevant to the work in the field and related disciplines. Some of the figures included in the volume whose work has been especially helpful for the Culture on the Edge collaboration are Tomoko Masuzawa, Aaron Hughes, Bruce Lincoln, and Jonathan Z. Smith. The ten central chapters are the following.

God Save This Honorable Court: Religion and Civic Discourse
Jonathan Z. Smith

An Early Moment in the Discourse of “Terrorism:” Reflections on a Tale from Marco Polo
Bruce Lincoln 

“A Storm on the Horizon”: Discomforting Democracy and the Feeling of Fairness
Ann Pellegrini

Fear of Small Numbers
Arjun Appadurai

Developing a Critical Consciousness: A Feminist Approach to Religion
Judith Plaskow

Religious Practices and Communal Identity of Cochin Jews: Models, Metaphors, and Methods of Diasporic Religious Acculturation
Nathan Katz

Regarding Origin: Beginnings, Foundations, and the Bicameral Formation of the Study of Religion
Tomoko Masuzawa

De-Judaizing Jesus: Theological Need and Exegetical Execution
Amy-Jill Levine

How to Theorize with a Hammer, or, On the Destruction and Reconstruction of Islamic Studies
Aaron Hughes

“Can I Share a Personal Example?” Self-Disclosure, Religious Studies Pedagogy, and the Skeptical Mission of the Public University
Martin Jaffee

Merinda Simmons on Marginalia

The Trouble with Post-BlacknessCulture on the Edge member Merinda Simmons has recently published a co-edited volume with Houston Baker, The Trouble with Post-Blackness. Marginalia, a channel of LA Review of Books this week featured an interview with Merinda discussing the volume . Culture on the Edge is doubly involved in this interview, as colleague Monica Miller is one of the hosts in the Conversations in Black series at Marginalia.

Forthcoming from the Edge

A girl sitting on the floor reading a book in a libraryCulture on the Edge was founded in early 2012 as a small research group, comprised of scholars with very different specialties, aiming to produce original research that not only invited readers to rethink how to study identity but also demonstrated how scholars who understand religion to be an ordinary cultural element could also have interesting things to say about other aspects of culture and history. Because books take a little longer to produce than do blog posts, it is worth bearing in mind that this academic blog — begun a year after the group formed — is only one of several venues for publicizing the group’s research.

We’re therefore pleased to announce several volumes that are due out in the coming year, all from Equinox Publishers — an independent UK publisher known for works on theory.

Click the descriptions below to learn more about each volume. Continue reading “Forthcoming from the Edge”