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New Approaches to World Islamic and Middle East Studies

May 16-18, 2014
Thompson House Ballroom (2nd floor)
Thompson House
3650 Rue McTavish, Montréal
McGill University

Thanks to a generous gift from the State of Qatar, McGill has recently held a series of events to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Institute of Islamic Studies. A key component of these celebrations is the convening of two academic workshops on the theme of “New Approaches to World Islamic and Middle East Studies”, the first of which was held in March 2014. Like the March workshop, the May 2014 workshop consists in a diverse set of panels, each organized by an individual Institute faculty member to reflect her or his research interests. Whereas the panels in the March workshop focused mainly on the dynamics of the 20th-century Middle East and contemporary Muslim societies, the May workshop is devoted to the history and civilization of the Islamic world in the period up to and including the 19th century. The first day of the May workshop is on “The Sacred and the Secular”, and the participants in its two panels will discuss how Islamic law, thought and ideology interact with social practice in both Sunni and Shi‘ite contexts. The theme of the second day is “The Rational  Sciences in Islam”, with one panel on the mathematical sciences and another on logic; once again the focus is on how the practitioners of these disciplines negotiated the competing demands of textual tradition and the social and institutional environments in which those textual traditions were produced. The third and final day, entitled “Logics of Narrative”, treats literary form and function in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Bengali prose and poetry, with a special emphasis on the construction of narrative and plot. Scholars who have produced innovative work in all these areas are coming to McGill from around the world in order to speak on their research.

PRINTABLE PROGRAM for New Approaches Workshop (PDF)


May 16 The Sacred and the Secular (Morning | Afternoon)

May 17 The Rational Sciences in Islam (Morning | Afternoon)

May 18 Logics of Narrative (Morning | Afternoon)


8:45 - 12:30

Islamic Juristic Discourse and Practice through the activities of Author-Jurists, Muftīs, Qāḍīs, and the Laity

Chair: Ahmed F. Ibrahim

Maribel Fierro (Spanish National Research Council)
Fatāwā Compilations and Legal Codification: The Case of the Islamic West (8th-15th centuries)

Behnam Sadeghi (Stanford University)
Legal Change and Scientific Change: Structural Similarities and Evolutionary Models

Christopher Melchert (Oxford University)
Māwardī’s Legal Thinking

Mohammad Fadel (University of Toronto)
Mamluk and Ottoman Sunni Conceptions of Obedience


2:00 - 5:30

Islamic Shīʿī Thought and Society

Chair: Rula Abisaab

Abbas Amanat (Yale University)
Apocalyptic Shi‘ism in Transcultural Context, 1260AH/1844CE

Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi (University of Toronto)
From Jinns to Germs: A Genealogy of Pasteurian Islam

Roy Mottahedeh (Harvard University)
Buyid Rulers and Shī‘ī Scholars

Kishwar Rizvi (Yale University)
Black Shi‘ism? Representations of Safavid Political and Religious Ideology in Early Modern Iran


9:00 - 12:30

Science and Islamic Societies: Resident Alien, Tolerated Guest, or Assimilated Citizen?

Chair: F. Jamil Ragep

Salim Ayduz (İstanbul Medeniyet University)
Astronomical Institutions in Ottoman Civilization: The Case of Taqī al-Dīn and Darwīsh Aḥmad

Mònica Rius (University of Barcelona)
What Does “Science in al-Andalus” Mean?

Ahmed Djebbar (University of Lille)
Solutions mathématiques à des problèmes cultuels, juridiques et culturels de la cité islamique (VIIIe-XVe s.)

 Hossein Masoumi Hamedani (Iranian Institute of Philosophy, Tehran)
Philosophy and the Mathematical Sciences in Classical Islam: Interdependence or Conflict?


2:00 - 5:30

Narratives of Logic: Manṭiq between Text, Institution and Society

Chair: Robert Wisnovsky

Cornelia Schöck (Ruhr University - Bochum)
The Rationale of the Truth of Sequential and Multiple Narratives (mutawātirāt) in Arabic-Muslim Theory of Science

Tony Street (Cambridge University)
Ḥillī’s Clear Rules and the Reception of the Shamsiyya

Khaled El-Rouayheb (Harvard University)
The Transformation of Eastern Arabic Logic in the 15th Century

Asad Q. Ahmed (University of California - Berkeley)
Ma‘qūlāt and Their Contexts in 19th-Century India


9:00 - 12:30

Narrative Worlds:  Truth and Representation in Islamicate Texts

Chair: Pasha M. Khan

Thibaut d’Hubert (University of Chicago)
Living in Marvelous Lands: Islamic Cosmography and a Bengali Version of the Adventures of Saif al-Mulūk

Paul Losensky (Indiana University - Bloomington)
Memorializing Lives: Representation and Narrative Patterns in Persian Biographical Literature

Christina Oesterheld (University of Heidelberg)
The Language of Love, Wine and Wisdom in Mulla Vajhi’s Sab Ras

Jeannie Miller (University of Toronto)
Certainty and Oratory in “Dimna’s Trial”


2:00 - 5:30

Poetics of Emplotment

Chair: Prashant Keshavmurthy

Mahmoud Omidsalar (Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia, Tehran)
Iran’s National Epic: Its Cultural Context and Literary Logic

Natalia Prigarina (Russian Academy of Sciences)
The Emplotment of a Motif as an Intertextual Narrative

Prashant Keshavmurthy (McGill University)
A Hindu Allegory of the Islamic Philosopher-King: The Tale of Madan and Kāmdi in ‘Abdul Qādir Bīdil’s Masnavi ‘Irfān (1712)

Franklin Lewis  (University of Chicago)
The Poetics of Emplotment and its Non-Employment:Paradigms of Lyric Narrativity and its Absence in the Persian Ghazal

March 14-15, 2014
Thompson House Ballroom (2nd floor)
Thompson House
3650 Rue McTavish, Montréal
McGill University

This workshop aims at presenting cutting edge work and opening up a space of debate about conceptual and methodological questions in World Islamic and Middle East Studies. In the last fifteen years or so the multidisciplinary area of Islamic/Middle East Studies has undergone major shifts: texts and archives are being approached from new angles, histories are being rewritten, new comparative perspectives are reconfiguring once familiar landscapes, and a new conceptual vocabulary is emerging. We believe that there is no better way to engage these shifts than to reflect on how they shape our current research, and we decided to do so by inviting some of the most exciting scholars in the field to discuss these questions with us. By engaging specific issues and themes, we also wish the workshop to be a platform for reflections around the possibilities and limits of the field itself.

The workshop presents these thematic, disciplinary and methodological concerns through a set of four panels, each organized by a faculty member of the Institute of Islamic Studies. The panels will be preceded by an introduction to the workshop by Rula Abisaab, director of the Institute, and Setrag Manoukian, caretaker of the workshop. A final roundtable will bring together the workshop participants and Anaïs Salamon, Head Librarian of the Islamic Studies Library at McGill for a discussion on the current state of the assemblage called Islamic Studies.

Printable Program (PDF)


March 14 (Morning | Afternoon)
March 15 (Morning | Afternoon)


9:00 - 9:30

Introductory remarks

Rula Abisaab, Setrag Manoukian

9:30 -12:30

History as Lived Experience: Five Intellectuals Navigate the End of the Ottoman Mashriq
Organizer Laila Parsons

Historians of the Mashriq are paying increasing attention to the very last years of the Ottoman period and to the “post-Ottoman moment” that saw the imposition of the colonial states of the modern Middle East. The scholarly discussion has revolved around overarching themes such as the establishment of colonial/state institutions, changes in communications and other kinds of technologies, colonial discourse and its appropriation by emerging state nationalisms, cultural and social modernities, new understandings of the “secular” and the “religious”, different ways of organizing gender and sex, Ottoman continuities and so on. By contrast, this panel will explore the very last years of the Ottoman period and the “post-Ottoman moment” by starting the analysis with the lived experience of five individuals. By concentrating on the details of their histories, the panel will address the following questions: how did these labels--Historian, Literary Critic, Journalist, Communist, Feminist--serve as categories through which these individuals understood their worlds and constructed their experiences? How much did the Nation and/or the State matter to the way they lived their lives? How did they relate to the Global? to the Local? to the Political? Uncovering the details of lived experience might also prompt other questions: such open-endedness is one of the main points of starting with individuals.

Laila Parsons (McGill University)
Chair and discussant

Dyala Hamza (UdeM)
Professions and Citizenship in the making of the Post-Ottoman Middle East: The Interwar journeys of one Pan-Islamic journalist and one Pan-Arab historian

llham-Khuri-Makdisi (Northeastern)
Artin Madoyan and the Making of Levantine Communism in a post-Ottoman world.

Salim Tamari (Institute of Palestine Studies, Ramallah)
Muhammad Kurd Ali and his conflicted Ottoman/Arab identity: The Syrian-Palestinian Intelligentsia in WWI

Mary Wilson (U.Mass., Amherst)
Daughter, Scholar, Feminist, and Wife: `Anbara Salam al-Khalidi 1897-1986


2:00 – 5:00 pm

The Impersonal and the Anthropology of Islam
Organizers: Setrag Manoukian and Naveeda Khan

We are interested in modes of thought and action that cannot be accounted through the focus on personhood that is currently preoccupying much anthropology of Islam. The everyday is full of encounters with, and discourses about, forces beyond humans, be those of nature, technology, government or the market. However current analyses, both within and outside the tradition, both scholarly and vernacular, tend to bring all of these modalities back to the person and its productivity: environment, revolution, media or finance are seen as questions of relationships between selves. We are interested in elaborating other accounts of these modes of existence, forms of life, errant thoughts, forces and events. How to think conceptually and ethnographically about all these dimensions that have been with anthropology all along, but are almost forgotten nowadays? It seems to us very promising to think of these as “the impersonal,” to help us set aside the preoccupation with the person but also questions of will, motivation, and intention, to ask how we might begin instead from the non-being, the animal, the event, or the outside to provide a new vantage point for the anthropology of Islam. The outcomes of our experiment will be undoubtedly varied, a new appreciation of the de-personalizing work of modernity and mass media in contemporary Muslim lives, the theological negotiations with the financial market perceived as an impersonal force, jurisprudential and colonial efforts to encapsulate the natural history of destruction indexed by earthquakes, or an expanded ontology that incorporates the voice of a preacher alongside early warning systems on natural disasters (or vice versa). They enable us to question the presumption of anthropocentrism for all times within the archives of Islam and to produce an anthropology of Islam in a new and generative vein.

Setrag Manoukian (McGill University)
Chair and discussant

Samera Esmeir (University of California, Berkley)
Reflections on the Natural History of Earthquakes: From the Islamic Tradition to Colonization

Daromir Rudnyckyj (University of Victoria)
Remaking Risk: The Market and the Impersonal in Islamic Finance

Naveeda Khan (Johns Hopkins University)
The Call to Islam and Early Warning Systems in Bangladesh: The Mutual Absorption of the Religious, the Political and the Natural

Emilio Spadola (Colgate University)
On Impersonal Practices: Modernity, Abstraction, and Embodiment


9:00 – 12:00

Middle Eastern Histories of the Present
Organizer: Malek Abisaab

The panel brings together four distinct studies, which shed light on developments in postcolonial research and the writing of Islamic/Middle Eastern history. They also explore particular confrontations as well as adaptations, which Muslim thinkers made to secular ideas and Western missionary discourses. Ariel Salzman illuminates the background for environmental inquiries within Ottoman Studies linking these inquiries to post-War studies on Middle Eastern and Balkan historical geography and social history. Elizabeth Thompson underscores Rashid Rida’s role in the liberal experiment of constitutionalism in Syria at the turn of the twentieth century. Beth Baron explores the gendered confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and Protestant Missionaries in Egypt during the 1930s. Finally, Peter Gran investigates the discursive link between capitalism, the Muslim Brotherhood and the recent uprisings in Egypt. His study concludes by stressing the current crisis in postcolonial studies.

Malek Abisaab (McGill University)
Chair and discussant

Ariel Salzmann (Queen’s University)
The ‘Environmental Turn’ in Ottoman History

Elizabeth Thompson (University of Virginia)
Rashid Rida and the 1920 Syrian Constitution: The Last Stand of Islamic Liberalism

Beth Baron (CUNY)
Women Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood

Peter Gran (Temple University)
The Contribution of Postcolonial Discourse to the Understanding of Arab Spring in Egypt


1:30 -4:00

Resisting Islamophobia in Islamic Studies: Local and Transnational Contexts and Feminisms
Organizer: Michelle Hartman

Our part of the workshop will be run as series of presentations and conversations, finishing with an open discussion. The presentations build upon on each participant’s previous work in the field and more specifically on their new project-- all of which critically analyze Islamophobias in a series of local, national and transnational contexts. The participants will prepare brief presentations on their specific topics, in relation to the topics of the other participants. The issues addressed will centre around race, religion and gender in relation to growing Islamophobia/s, how movements and organizing can include “internal” critiques while resisting racist discourses about Islam, what roles different feminisms can play in these contexts, and how thinking through local and transnational contexts can advance strategies of resistance.

Michelle Hartman (McGill University)
Chair and discussant

Nadine Naber (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Anti-Imperialist Arab Feminisms: From San Francisco to Detroit, Cairo to Beirut

Stephen Sheehi (University of South Carolina)
Post-Islamophobia: Islamophobia in “Post-Racism” America

Sunera Thobani (The University of British Colombia)
Feminism and Islamophobia: Making Sense of Race, Religion and Gendered Violence

4:15- 5:30


Setrag Manoukian will facilitate a final discussion on the state of Islamic Studies with all workshop organizers and participants, and Anaïs Salamon, Head Librarian of the Islamic Studies Library at McGill.