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Being Muslim: How Local Islam Overturns Narratives of Exceptionalism

Tony K. Stewart, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities
Richard McGregor, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Project.  The overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide live outside the Middle East, especially in Africa and Asia, but the Islam they practice is generally devalued in public discourse in favor of the idealized Arabic-centric standard forms, especially found in Saudi Arabia and Egypt; likewise the majority of Muslims worldwide do not speak Arabic.  This project seeks to bring together several generations of scholars from all parts the world to complicate our—and the public’s—understanding of the ways Islam has naturalized itself in communities worldwide, including more recent developments in Europe and America.

Solicitation for Workshops.  With this announcement we are now soliciting proposals for the last two workshops—all geographic areas where Islam is found are eligible.  The proposed work should be unpublished work-in-progress, which we will circulate in advance (in the spirit of a proper working group as opposed to a conference presentation); previously published work will not be accepted.  Each participant will be allotted approximately one hour to present and discuss the work (details to be provided upon acceptance).  Each workshop will include approximately fifteen scholars from around the world and each participant will have all expenses paid.

Proposals.  To propose a presentation, please submit a title and 250-300 word précis to Christen C. Harper, Administrative Assistant, Department of Religious Studies, Vanderbilt University, email: <>.   It would be most helpful if you would include an updated CV or the URL of your personal website where your credentials can be found.  Scholars from all ranks, independent and within the academy, are encouraged to apply.  Electronic submissions only.

Workshop I: 26-29 September 2013Click here for PDF of Workshop I Program
“Reconsidering the Non-Muslim Other: Internal and External Religious Differentiation” – the historical encounter of Islam with other religious, linguistic, and ethnic traditions up through the early modern period (roughly prior to 1750 ce).

 Workshop II: 13-16 February 2014Click here for PDF of Workshop II Program
“Genres of the Imaginaire: How Creativity Mediates Islam through Local Vernaculars” – the exercise of Islamic creativity in these encounters, mediated through literature, art, architecture, city planning, courts.

 Workshop III: 18-21 September 2014Click here for PDF of Workshop III Program
“Muslims Negotiating Modernities” – How Muslims have adapted to modernities, including divergent political and legal systems, technology, gender, minorities, environment.

 Workshop IV: 19-22 March 2015 –   Click here for PDF of Workshop IV Program
“Transnational and Local Networks of Pilgrimage” – The linguistic, ethnic, and communal complexity of the Hajj practice belies the simple ideal of the injunction; nor does it account for the voluminous traffic in local and regional pilgrimages to shrines, tombs, and other historic sites, each one unique.

Please use the navigation tools to the right to see the full project description, details of the four workshop themes, and the people behind it all.