Category Archives: Media

Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites: Religion, Politics, and Conflict Resolution Edited by Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey

IRCPL publication - Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites book cover

Edited by Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey
Published: November, 2014

This anthology explores the dynamics of shared religious sites in Turkey, the Balkans, Palestine/Israel, Cyprus, and Algeria, indicating where local and national stakeholders maneuver between competition and cooperation, coexistence and conflict. Contributors probe the notion of coexistence and the logic that underlies centuries of “sharing,” exploring when and why sharing gets interrupted—or not—by conflict, and the policy consequences. 

These essays map the choreographies of shared sacred spaces within the framework of state-society relations, juxtaposing a site’s political and religious features and exploring whether sharing or contestation is primarily religious or politically motivated. While religion and politics are intertwined phenomena, the contributors to this volume understand the category of “religion” and the “political” as devices meant to distinguish between the theological and confessional aspects of religion and the political goals of groups. Their comparative approach better represents the transition in some cases of sites into places of hatred and violence while in other instances they remain noncontroversial. The essays clearly delineate the religious and political factors that contribute to the context and causality of conflict at these sites and draw on history and anthropology to shed light on the often rapid switch from relative tolerance to distress to peace and calm.

A Response to Alon Confino on A World Without Jews

By Shirley Feng

Alon Confino, professor in the Department of History at the University of Virginia and at Ben Gurion University of Israel, discussed his latest book, A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide, at Columbia on September 15, sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life; the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, and the Department of Sociology.  He started by exploring an important question raised in his book — why did the Nazis burn thousands and thousands of editions of the Hebrew Bible? From this starting point, Professor Confino went on to a broader exploration of the origins of the Holocaust in an attempt to understand the mindset of the Germans of that time.

To address the question of why Germans would want to burn a religious and holy object, Professor Confino pointed to the fact that Germans wanted to establish a new Christianity in the country. They saw Jews as inheritors of the origins according to the Bible, a notion the Germans found threatening. The burning of the Hebrew Bible can therefore be seen as a symbolic way to resist and rebel against this idea. The Nazis sought a new national identity, one distinct from and without any Jews, and this became one of the main driving forces of the genocide from the Nazis’ perspective. They wanted to construct a new German Christianity and a Germany without Jews.

Throughout his talk, Professor Confino kept his analysis as unbiased as possible, in an attempt to understand the motives of the Germans. He focused not on the events that happened in places like Auschwitz, but instead emphasized that it was the imagination of the Germans — of a world without Jews — that allowed the Genocide to happen.

Shirley Feng is a student at Columbia University, class of ’16. 

Covering Egypt: Media and Politics in the Post-Mubarak Period

This one-day conference, organized by IRCPL Distinguished Visiting Scholar Emad Shahin and IRCPL Director Karen Barkey, presents a critical overview and analysis of the role played by both Egyptian and Western media in Egypt’s post-January 2011 political transition. Particular attention is paid to the lead-up to Egypt’s July 3, 2013 military coup and the post-coup period. Presentations address the current state of free expression in Egypt, and evaluate media professionalism in Egypt’s news media. Experts discuss how Egypt’s press system may need to be restructured in order to facilitate a democratic turn.

More details, including conference schedule, detailed bios of presenters, and more, is available here.

Covering Egypt is sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life and co-sponsored by the Center for Democracy, Toleration, and Religion and the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University.

Video of all three panels is available here on youtube.  Audio is available for download below:

Audio of panel 1, “The Role of the Media in Egypt’s Military Coup,” will be available soon.

Listen to panel 2, “The Media, Human Rights, and Free Speech in Egypt,” here:

Listen to panel 3, “Western Media, International Politics, and Egypt’s Military Coup,” here:

Featured in this Episode: Islamic Prayer


Paola Abenante

“In the heart of each of us there is a fitra that is a natural dimension in which allah…the tawhid, the uniqueness of being is already instilled…the point of the rituals is to unveil the heart and the ego from those passionate souls that actual veil and hide this innate understanding of the uniqueness of God and the cosmos.”
- Paola Abenante

Paola Abenante graduated from La Sapienza University in Rome and did her master's degree in Anthropology and Ethnography at the EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales) in Paris.
She received her Ph.D. in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Milano-Bicocca in 2010 with a thesis on Sufism and religious subjectivity in contemporary Egypt. She has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Bergen in 2010-2011; Research Fellow at the Italian Academy, Columbia University 2012-2013; and is now postdoc at the University of Milano Bicocca. Her research interests revolve primarily around forms of subjectivity and Islamic traditions, with a particular focus on Sufism and on Egypt. Her latest research explores the issue of subjectivity in relation to the politics of culture in Egypt.

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Souleymane Bachir

Souleymane Bachir Diagne received his academic training in France. His field of research includes Boolean algebra of logic, history of philosophy, Islamic philosophy, African philosophy, and literature. He is the author of Islam et société ouverte, la fidélité et le mouvement dans la pensée de Muhammad Iqbal; Boole, l’oiseau de nuit en plein jour (Paris: Belin, 1989) (a book on Boolean algebra); Islam et société ouverte, la fidélité et le mouvement dans la pensée de Muhammad Iqbal (Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2001) (a book on Indian poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal); and Léopold Sédar Senghor: l’art africain comme philosophie (Paris: Riveneuve Editions, 2007) (a book on Senegalese poet and philosopher L.S. Senghor). His forthcoming book on Islam and philosophy, entitled Comment philosopher en Islam? (How to philosophize in Islam?), will be published in October 2008 by Panama Editions, Paris. Professor Diagne’s teaching interests include history of early modern philosophy, philosophy and Sufism in the Islamic world, African philosophy and literature, twentieth century French philosophy.

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Niloofar Haeri

Niloofar Haeri is professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Her research interests include Islamic prayers and experiences of religiosity, gender, ritual, and language; public appearance and notions of modesty among Jews, Christians, and Muslims; social history of moral values in Iran since early 20th century; and language ideology, vernacularization, and modernity in Egypt, Iran, and the Middle East. Her most recent book is Sacred Language, Ordinary People: Dilemmas of Culture and Politics in Egypt (Palgrave Macmillan).

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Butch Ware

Rudolph "Butch" Ware is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Michigan and is affiliated with The Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at The International Center. He researches knowledge transmission in Islamic West Africa. His forthcoming book, The Walking Qur'an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa, is from University of North Carolina Press.

Listen to additional excerpts from Professor Ware's interviews here.

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Khalid Latif

"You can stand and bow and kneel and prostrate…and if that’s not penetrating the hard shell you’ve put around your heart, then what are you doing…?”
- Khalid Latif

Khalid Latif was appointed the first Muslim chaplain at NYU in 2005 where he began to initiate his vision for a pluralistic future on and off campus for American Muslims. He was also appointed the first Muslim chaplain at Princeton University in 2006. Spending a year commuting between these two excellent institutions, he finally decided to commit full-time to New York University's Islamic Center where his position was officially institutionalized in the spring of 2007. Under his leadership, the Islamic Center at NYU became the first ever established Muslim student center at an institution of higher education in the United States. Imam Latif's exceptional dedication and ability to cross interfaith and cultural lines on a daily basis brought him recognition throughout the city, so much so that in 2007 Mayor Michael Bloomberg nominated Imam Latif to become the youngest chaplain in history of the New York City Police Department at the age of 24.

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Najam Haider

“This was a society that had a great poetic sensibility…oftentimes the Quran itself is seen as saying, "If you don’t think this is true revelation, produce a verse like it." It’s a challenge.…”
- Najam Haider

Najam Haider is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at Barnard College, where he teaches courses in Islamic studies and history. He completed his PhD at Princeton University, M.Phil. at Oxford University, and BA at Dartmouth College, and has published articles focusing on Islamic historiography and the emergence of sectarian identity. His research interests include Islamic law, Shī‘ism, and the impact of colonization on modern Islamic political and religious discourse. His book entitled The Origins of the Shī‘a: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in 8th century Kūfa was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011. He is currently at work on his second book which will focus on the controversies of sectarian historiography.

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Blood: A Critique of Christianity

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By Gil Anidjar
Published: May, 2014

Blood, according to Gil Anidjar, maps the singular history of Christianity. As a category for historical analysis, blood can be seen through its literal and metaphorical uses as determining, sometimes even defining Western culture, politics, and social practices and their wide-ranging incarnations in nationalism, capitalism, and law.

Engaging with a variety of sources, Anidjar explores the presence and the absence, the making and unmaking of blood in philosophy and medicine, law and literature, and economic and political thought from ancient Greece to medieval Spain, from the Bible to Shakespeare and Melville. The prevalence of blood in the social, juridical, and political organization of the modern West signals that we do not live in a secular age into which religion could return. Flowing across multiple boundaries, infusing them with violent precepts that we must address, blood undoes the presumed oppositions between religion and politics, economy and theology, and kinship and race. It demonstrates that what we think of as modern is in fact imbued with Christianity. Christianity, Blood fiercely argues, must be reconsidered beyond the boundaries of religion alone.

Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill

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By Mark C. Taylor
Published: February, 2014

Mark C. Taylor recounts a poignant love affair not with a person but with a place that, paradoxically, cannot be easily localized. For many years, Taylor has lived in the Berkshire Mountains, where he writes and creates land art and sculpture. In a world of mobile screens and virtual realities, where speed is the measure of success and place is disappearing, his work slows down thought and brings life back to earth to give readers time to ponder the importance of place before it slips away.

Taylor extends reflection beyond the page and returns with new insights about what is hiding in plain sight all around us. Weaving together words and images, his artful work enacts what it describes. Things long familiar suddenly appear strange, and the strange, unexpected, and unprogrammed unsettle readers in surprising ways. This timely meditation gives pause in the midst of harried lives and turns attention toward what we usually overlook: night, silence, touch, grace, ghosts, water, earth, stones, bones, idleness, infinity, slowness, and contentment.Recovering Place is a unique work with reflections that linger long after the book is closed.

Boundaries of Toleration

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Edited by Alfred Stepan and Charles Taylor
Published: February, 2014

How can people of diverse religious, ethnic, and linguistic allegiances and identities live together without committing violence, inflicting suffering, or oppressing each other? In this volume, contributors explore the limits of toleration and suggest we think beyond them to mutual respect. Salman Rushdie reflects on the once tolerant Sufi-Hindu culture of Kashmir. Ira Katznelson follows with an intellectual history of toleration as a layered institution in the West. Charles Taylor advances a new approach to secularism in our multicultural world, and Akeel Bilgrami responds by offering context and caution to that approach. Nadia Urbinati explores why Cicero’s humanist ideal of Concord was not used in response to religious discord. The volume concludes with a refutation of the claim that toleration was invented in the West. Rajeev Bhargava writes on Asoka’s India, and Karen Barkey explores toleration within the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires. Sudipta Kaviraj examines accommodations and conflicts in India, and Alfred Stepan highlights contributions to toleration and multiple democratic secularisms in such Muslim-majority countries as Indonesia and Senegal.