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

Identity, Politics, and the Study of Islam coverThis 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”

Global Grover, Meet Edward Said

global-grover

Being the parent of a toddler has introduced me to all sorts of things I’d never have known about otherwise: how many Legos can be stacked before a tower topples, the sound of a stuffed rabbit singing when I accidentally step on it at 2a.m. (yes, I’ve done it more than once, and yes, it’s just as terrifying as you’d expect), the exact amount of time a paper airplane proves entertaining until it just decidedly doesn’t, the glee inspired by dogs and cats yowling “Jingle Bells,” and…most recently, Global Grover.

I don’t have cable, and I’m just fine leaving well enough alone when it comes to the shows my kid doesn’t know he’s missing until such a time as they become unavoidable. But my own generation was raised on TV, and I don’t have an ultra cynical take on it… and I do remember fondly the old standbys, namely Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street. So I just shrug when, despite best efforts, certain things just slip into my child’s consciousness. He’s only just two, and he already sings the melody and words from the Elmo’s World theme song, for crying out loud. Resistance is futile. Continue reading “Global Grover, Meet Edward Said”

Residual Assumptions

6 Shiv havan cropped

In a recent email discussion among scholars about general issues of representations and Wendy Doniger’s controversial book (about which I have written on Culture on the Edge and Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog), P. Pratap Kumar, a colleague in South Africa, framed the issue through a clear, though contrived, contrast between the scholar and the devotee. He wrote,

Someone who is raised as a Hindu grows up listening to religious songs at Satsangs and even through Bollywood religious songs (there are plenty of Bollywood religious songs that Hindus listen to with utmost devotion) and never would have known that their Hindu texts contain many erotic statements and not just the singular term Linga. But on the other hand, scholars especially from the outside Hindu tradition (be they western or eastern) begin with Sanskrit language and then reading the highly specialised texts where they find statements that devout Hindus would have never heard of. From scholar’s reading, there are indeed very detailed erotic references in many Hindu texts, . . .
We as scholars have to talk about these things because these matters are there in the texts from the Rig Veda to the epics in plenty of places. It is hard to fault a western scholar or any non-Hindu scholar for pointing these out and translating them for what they are.

Continue reading “Residual Assumptions”

Just a few Notes

aristocatsKnow that image? It’s from the once popular Disney movie “The AristoCats” (1970) — take a look at the scene: Continue reading “Just a few Notes”