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Call for papers: Islam (re-)Observed

In October, LUCIS and NIMAR will host a two-day workshop in honor of the 50th anniversary of Islam Observed, Clifford Geertz' comparative study of Islam in Morocco and Indonesia. Send in your proposal and get a chance to share your work in Rabat this fall.

Clifford Geertz

Islam Observed

This year, it is exactly 50 years ago that the late anthropologist Clifford Geertz published his Islam Observed, a compilation of essays dealing with the comparative study of Islam in two parts of the Islamic world. Geertz had previously done fieldwork in Central Java in the early and late 1950s, and would proceed with doing research in Morocco starting from the mid 1960s onwards, when Indonesia was amidst political upheaval. In Islam Observed Geertz aims to lay out a general framework for the comparative analysis of religion and to apply it to Islam in two very different ‘civilizations’. They are an odd pair, as he argued, yet both in some enlarged sense of the word Islamic. They are ‘at once very alike and very different, they form a kind of commentary on one another’s character...They both incline toward Mecca but, the antipodes of the Muslim world, they bow in opposite directions.’

The aim of his systematic study of religion, as Geertz famously wrote, was ‘not just to describe ideas, acts and institutions, but to determine just how and in what way particular ideas, acts and institutions sustain, fail to sustain, or even inhibit religious faith-that is to say, steadfast attachment to some transtemporal conception of reality.’ Geertz was especially interested in what happens to faith 'when its vehicles alter’ and it is such larger developments within both society and religion, back then and in the very now, that are also at the heart of our proposed workshop.

It is striking, 50 years on, how innovative and pioneering Geertz' comparative work on Islam still is, with (too) little work actually structurally analyzing the changes and developments in the Islamic world from a comparative perspective. The proposed Rabat workshop and a forthcoming publication aim to address the merits of such a comparison scrutinizing the work of Geertz and its contribution to various fields studying Islam. It also investigates what new developments have taken place in Morocco and Indonesia that Geertz could not have predicted or were simply absent from the societies and the Islam that he studied in his time.

Workshop in Rabat

For this two-day workshop, that will be hosted by the Nederlands Instituut Marokko (NIMAR) in Rabat, we plan to invite 10-12 participants from Indonesia, Morocco, Leiden and elsewhere with backgrounds in various disciplines, including Islamic studies, sociology of religion, anthropology and area studies. We commission papers from participants and ask them to address Geertz’ seminal work Islam Observed, from various angles and given in by their own disciplinary backgrounds. Papers will hence survey the following aspects, and their past and present significance for Islam in the both countries under study:

  • The position of Islam within the wider global Muslim world
  • The interplay between Islam and local cultures
  • National policies towards Islam
  • Media and popular culture
  • Islamic law and society

In addition to Islam Observed, we ask contributors to engage with other typical Geertzian ‘fascinations’ such as thick description, ritual and art, culture as/through text, cultural relativism, or for that sake, popular and intellectualistic strands within Islam.

The workshop will take place on 27-28 October 2018. Draft papers will be written beforehand and discussed during the workshop. The proceedings will be readied for publication and published in the Leiden LUCIS Series. Please indicate your interest in participating before 15 September by sending a title and proposal of 400 words to lucis@hum.leidenuniv.nl (cc. Nico Kaptein). Only in exceptional cases financial support will be available; when you want to make use of this, please indicate this in your application. In case too many persons express their interest, the conveners will select the proposals which best suit the theme of the workshop. 

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