Michaelmas Term 2015

Tuesday 20th October
Discussion Theme: English law and religious marriage
Introductory Article: John R. Bowen, ‘How Could English Courts Recognize Shariah?’
Research Presentation: ‘Moving away from “non-marriage” and the recognition of
religious marriage in English law’
Presenter: Vishal Vora, School of Law, SOAS
 The question of marriage validity is not novel; the answer could only be valid or void. What changed in 1997 was the formation of a new category called non-marriage. Certain religious marriages are considered so far from being what parliament intended, that they can only be deemed a non-event and give rise to no legal rights. In a short space of time there have been a number of cases involving the validity of Islamic marriages, entered into with good faith and via a ceremony, yet nearly all have been declared non-marriages. Is this judicial ‘wrong-turn’ being used too casually? Has the time come to recognise religious and belief marriages and if so, what may be the best mechanism?

Tuesday 3rd November
Discussion Theme: Youth and Religiosity
Introductory Article: 
Nazli Kibra, ‘The “new Islam” and Bangladeshi youth in Britain and the US’
Research Presentation: 
‘British Muslim Youth: Re-examining intergenerational conflicts and introducing the time factor’
Presenter: Hira Amin, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge
Abstract: A common narrative in the literature surrounding British Muslims is the inevitable generational conflict between ‘traditional’ parents and their ‘modern’ British-born children. This ‘clash’ and confusion in identity, the historiography argues, is the primary factor that causes young Muslims to become more religious and use their faith to gain a sense of stability and belonging. This paper aims to re-examine this narrative in two ways. Firstly, instead of focusing on conflict, I argue that it is important to examine how both generations negotiate and adapt. The over-arching emphasis on conflict obscures the complex and more fluid reality of cooperation and reconfiguration. Secondly, a factor that is missing from current analysis is time. There seems to be a lack of appreciation of how the meaning and practice of Islam evolves in an individual over time and how this impacts the family.

Tuesday 17th November
Discussion Theme: Cultural Identity
Introductory Article: Adis Duderija, ‘Factors Determining Religious Identity Construction among Western-born Muslims: Towards a Theoretical Framework’
Research Presentation: ‘
Cultural Muslims in the UK’
Presenter: Katarzyna Sidło, Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge, and Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Warsaw
Abstract: Two opposite trends in religiosity or, more broadly, spirituality, have been gaining on strength lately. On the one hand, increased levels of piousness and devotion are being observed. On the other, the number of people identifying themselves as “non-believers” or “secular” is on the rise. This paper is an attempt at characterizing a segment of society that fits into the latter group, albeit in a heterodox way, namely “cultural Muslims”, who break the traditional dichotomy between Muslims (us) and not-Muslims (them), introducing a concept of a gradual identity. The analysis will aim at determining who they are, how they are perceived by both religious Muslims and disaffiliates from Islam, as well as evaluating their place in the public discourse on religion, and their place in the society in UK in general.

Tuesday 1st December
Discussion Theme: Anthropology of Islamic Education in Britain
Introductory Article: Sophie Gilliat-Ray, ‘Educating the ‘Ulama: Centres of Islamic religious training in Britain’
Research Presentation: ‘Making Modern Mullahs in Britain’
Presenter: Alyaa Ebbiary, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, SOAS
Abstract: Among the many criticisms afforded the British Muslim ‘community’, particular censure is reserved for its Imams and religious leaders, both by non-Muslim wider society and their own co-religionists. A common refrain is disappointment that they are in the main, born and educated abroad, have a poor command of English and an even worse understanding of British society and connecting with the youth. Over the last 30 years several institutions have been established to train home-grown religious specialists, but many of them have been similarly criticised as ‘backward’ and ‘out of touch’. In the last decade, there has been a huge interest in nurturing a cohort of ulema (Islamic scholars) for whom cultural literacy is as important as religious literacy. My research explores the personal and pedagogical experiences of this emerging trend, with reference to fieldwork conducted with seminary students and aspiring Islamic religious professionals, in Cambridge and London.

Lent Term 2016

Monday 1st February
Discussion Theme: Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism
Introductory Article: Nasar Meer, ‘Semantics, scales and solidarities in the study of antisemitism and Islamophobia’
Research Presentation: ‘Studying Antisemitism & Islamophobia: Comparisons, Contrasts and Parallels’
Presenter: Maryyum Mehmood, Department of War Studies, King’s College London
Abstract: Research exploring the effects of xenophobia is often categorised under the umbrella of multiculturalism studies, and most often there is little, if any, engagement between different forms of xenophobia. Following calls by experts in the field to widen scope of the discourses into Antisemitism and Islamophobia, this study seeks to highlight the underlying similarities and differences in terms of the respective reactions they generate. A further nuance of this study is that it investigates both Antisemitism and Islamophobia through the target’s lens, i.e. the reactions of Jews and Muslims towards being members of scapegoated or suspect communities. Essentially, I aim to put forward this notion of ‘accommodation’ as the most effective form of acculturation for both groups or communities. Accommodation, amongst other things, entails balancing all aspects of one’s identity, and the process of negotiation is discussed in detail in this presentation. It is hoped that by offering insight into the accommodationist response, we can simultaneously learn more about Antisemitism and Islamophobia discourses, and offer a deeper understanding of the current assimilation vs isolation debates.

Tuesday 9th February
Discussion Theme: Islam and Youth in France
Introductory Article: Frank Peter, ‘Islamism, Islamic Reformism and the Public Stigmatization of Muslims: A Study of Muslim Discourses in France’
Research Presentation: ‘Youth activism in revivalist Islam’
Presenter: Margot Dazey, Department of Political and International Studies, University of Cambridge
Abstract: A widespread narrative among French sociologists of religion understands youth involvement in Islamic revivalism as a reactive phenomenon, about either estrangement from ‘traditional’ parents or alienation from a hostile society. Drawing on literature from the sociology of activism, this paper aims at disentangling a number of assumptions underlying this kind of narrative by highlighting both the various processes of joining these movements and the motivations for staying. Using data from extended interviews and periods of participant-observation, it seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the dynamics of Muslim youth activism in France.

Tuesday 23rd February
Discussion Theme: 
Muslims and the Media
Introductory article: Bandar Al-Hejin, ‘Covering Muslim women: Semantic macrostructures in BBC News’
Research Presentation: ‘Muslims and Islam in the Muslim Press in the UK’
Presenter: Samar Samir Mezghanni, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge
Abstract: This presentation showcases a preliminary analysis of the discourse of press that caters to Muslim communities in the United Kingdom. The research looks at the similarities and differences in the discourses of Muslim press and mainstream newspapers from 1998 to 2009 with regards to the topics they consider newsworthy and their representation of Muslims and Islam. The presentation focuses on the diachronic analysis of consistencies and/or changes in the topics covered by The Muslim News over the 12 years framework. The quantitative and qualitative analysis suggests that, in covering newsworthy events involving Muslims, The MN shifts its focus and representation of British Muslims based on their position in the news story as agents or patients.

Tuesday 8th March
Discussion Theme: Transnational Islamic mobilisations
Introductory Article: Valerie Amiraux, ‘Turkish Political Islam and Europe: Story of an Opportunistic Intimacy’
Research Presentation: ‘Islamic Opposition Movements in diasporic contexts: Solidarités tunisiennes and CODE Égypte in France’
Presenters: Mathilde Zederman, Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS, and Margot Dazey, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge
Abstract: To what extent Western European states provide Islamic opposition actors with new opportunities and constraints for political expression? How are homeland opposition politics displayed and reworked within diasporic political scenes? Building on two in-depth case-studies, Solidarités tunisiennes and CODE Égypte, this paper seeks to explore the micro-politics of Islamic opposition mobilisations stretching across borders. Set up in France after repressive events in home countries (following Ben Ali’s repression against Ennahda in Tunisia in the 1990s and after military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood during Rabaa events in 2013 for the Egyptian case), both Solidarités tunisiennes and CODE Égypte articulate democratic claims, Islamic markers and national references tightly. Investigating their discourses and practices might enable us to disentangle the distinctive frames, political agendas and activist careers of ‘long-distance Islamic actors’.

Easter Term 2016

Tuesday 3rd May
Discussion Theme: Recognition of Islam in Italy
Introductory Article: James A. Toronto, ‘Islam Italiano: Prospects for Integration of Muslims in Italy’s Religious Landscape’
Research Presentation: The Muslim Minority of Italy: “Non-existent” Religious Communities as Transnational Actors
Presenter: M. Cenap Aydin, Istituto Tevere, Rome, and Visiting Scholar, University of Cambridge
Abstract: Islam is the second largest religion in Italy but it still lacks legal recognition. None of the Muslim communities has achieved an “intesa” (accord) with the state unlike most of the religious minorities. However, this atypical relation at the national level does not prevent some Muslim communities to become transnational religious actors. In my research I look at three Muslim communities – UCOII (The Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy), COREIS (The Islamic Religious Communities in Italy), Ahmadi Community – not only in terms of their transnational networks and “imagined” ummas but also in terms of their interaction with another significant transnational religious actor, Roman Catholicism. After a brief discussion in the literature (transnational religious actors, religious minorities, law and religion in Italy), I will present my preliminary findings in the fieldwork, especially based on participant observation and some interviews.

Tuesday 10th May
Discussion Theme: Syrian Migrants in Germany
Introductory Article: Katerina Rozaku, ‘The biopolitics of hospitality in Greece: Humanitarianism and the management of refugees’
Research Presentation: ‘“Refugees Welcome”? Hospitality, Citizenship and the Future for Syrians in Germany’
Presenter: Philip Rushworth, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge
Abstract: In this talk I will introduce my PhD research looking at hospitality and citizenship in relation to Syrian migrants and refugees in Germany. ‘Hospitality’ is a term that is frequently used to describe Germany’s response to the so-called ‘refugee crisis’, especially in relation to the Willkommenskultur (culture of welcome) movement. In my ethnographic fieldwork in Germany, beginning in October 2016, I plan to investigate practices of hospitality: German citizens opening their homes to Syrian migrants and refugees. Specifically, I am interested in exploring these practices in relation to discourses of ‘inclusion’ and ‘integration’ of migrants and refugees into German society, which I consider in terms of ‘citizenship’. In this seminar I will discuss why practices of hospitality are interesting to think about and what questions they raise.

Tuesday 24th May
Discussion Theme: Islamic NGOs in France
Introductory Article: Valérie Amiraux, ‘Speaking as a Muslim: Avoiding Religion in French Public Space’
Research Presentation: ‘Unveiling Complexity: Muslim grassroots charities in Europe’
Presenter: William Barylo, L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), Paris
Abstract: Categorising Muslims according to their level of orthodoxy or political orientations can impoverish the quality of social science study, since it can then be impossible to take the diversity of their discourses and practices into account. Using Valérie Amiraux’s article, this presentation addresses the need for using a micro-sociological analysis that underlines the importance of anti-utilitarian motives such as feelings and emotions, and so considers subjects as complex persons. Drawing on my empirical research on Muslim volunteers participating in grassroots charities in France and Poland, this presentation seeks to transcend the binary of whether a subject be Muslim at certain times, but at other times not.

Tuesday 7th June
Discussion Theme: The Gülen Movement
Introductory Article: Stefano Bigliardi, ‘The Contemporary Debate on the Harmony between Islam and Science: Emergence and Challenges of a New Generation’
Research Presentation: ‘The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam, Science and Modernity’
Presenter: Caroline Tee, Faraday Institute, University of Cambridge
Abstract: The Gülen, or Hizmet, movement in Turkey is the country’s most powerful and affluent religious organisation. Its central tenet, advanced by its founder, the charismatic Sunni preacher Fethullah Gülen (b. 1941), is that Muslims should engage positively with modernity. A prime means of advancing this philosophy has been education: at hundreds of Gülen-run schools and universities, not only in Turkey but also worldwide, instructors aim to cultivate the next generation of Muslim bankers, biologists, software engineers and politicians. But how does the Gülen movement resolve the sometimes conflicting positions of Sunni Islam and contemporary science for example, on evolutionary theory? Drawing on sustained ethnographic research conducted among Gülen communities in Turkey, Caroline Tee analyses their complex attitudes towards secular modernity. She focuses on education, science research and industry to explore how pious Muslim practitioners engage in science at high levels, arguing that the Gülen movement’s success in this critical area of modernity has facilitated its rise to prominence in recent decades. Considered against the backdrop of Turkish politics, and particularly the acrimonious power-struggle between the Gülen movement and its erstwhile ally, Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Gülenist engagement with modern science is revealed as a key source of its influence and success.

Update: Please see our interview with Caroline Tee about her new book here.

We would like to thank the Centre for Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge, for kindly supporting our events with visiting speakers.