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

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”

Good vs. Evil Makes a Good Story

10346022996_3f96743f5f_oDarth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker, Sauron vs. Gandalf, Voldemort vs. Harry Potter. Stories are full of good and bad characters, sometimes complicated with the redemption of a character like Darth Vader, but what does it take to maintain such a stark division between good and evil?

Continue reading “Good vs. Evil Makes a Good Story”

Coloring Columbus: On the Importance of Leaving Out the Details

Christopher ColumbusI am the parent of three children, two of whom are elementary school-aged.  As such, I have now twice been handed an image of Christopher Columbus (not unlike the one featured above) that they each have dutifully colored, which appears to be a requisite kindergarten activity at our local public school. Because of the historical evidence that details Columbus’s systematic torture and murder of the peoples whose lands he colonized, I have always found this exercise something akin to coloring a picture of Saddam Hussein or some other such figure. Continue reading “Coloring Columbus: On the Importance of Leaving Out the Details”

Short-term Memory

1239448_10101716135896975_1920941713_nOkay, I’ll go for a 9/11 post…but I’ll make it quick.  I’m seeing a lot of images on Facebook like the one above, posted by friends of various political persuasions.  All these friends can appeal to what they have in common, after all–a unifying sense of patriotism and national identity. Continue reading “Short-term Memory”