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Intellectual Captivity

Literary Theory, World Literature, and the Ethics of Interpretation

Chen Bar-Itzhak

Abstract

This essay concerns the unequal distribution of epistemic capital in the academic field of World Literature and calls for an epistemic shift: a broadening of our theoretical canon and the epistemologies through which we read and interpret world literature. First, this epistemic inequality is discussed through a sociological examination of the “world republic of literary theory,” addressing the limits of circulation of literary epistemologies. The current situation, it is argued, creates an “intellectual captivity,” the ethical and political implications of which are demonstrated through a close reading of the acts of reading world literature performed by scholars at the center of the field. A few possible solutions are then suggested, drawing on recent developments in anthropology, allowing for a redistribution of epistemic capital within the discipline of World Literature: awareness of positionality, reflexivity as method, promotion of marginal scholarship, and a focus on “points of interaction.”

Francis Benyah

Abstract

The use of the mass media has become a contemporary and fast-growing religious phenomenon within Pentecostal and charismatic churches. By drawing implications on the use of modern media technologies, this article presents a popular case of a Charismatic church in Ghana and shows how the idea of branding evolves around the use of the mass media. This article argues that the branding of the leaders’ personality and the church is a marketing strategy aimed at attracting more people into the church.

Beth Ann Williams

Abstract

Christian churches are not abstract or ethereal institutions; they impact people’s daily decisions, weekly rhythms, and major life choices. This paper explores the continued importance of Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Anglican church membership for East African women. While much recent scholarship on Christianity in Africa has emphasized the rising prominence of Pentecostalism, I argue that historic, mission-founded churches continue to represent important sources of community formation and support for congregations. Using oral interviews with rural and urban women in Nairobi and northern Tanzania, I explore the ways churches can connect disparate populations through resource (re)distribution and shared religious aesthetic experiences. Moving below the level of church institutions, I focus on the lived experiences and motivations of everyday congregants who invest in religious communities for a range of material, interpersonal, and emotional reasons that, taken together, help us understand the ongoing importance of mainline churches in East Africa.

Sarali Gintsburg

Abstract

The Jbala region in northern Morocco is known for an enormous number of Sufi lodges, shrines of local saints, and the cults of those saints. However, this topic has entirely escaped the attention of modern scholars. This paper focuses on the ziyara, or tradition of pilgrimage to a shrine of a saint, connecting it to the debate on place and space on the one hand, and identity studies on the other. Using a classical ethnographic approach, I analyze one such pilgrimage that took place in 2018, in which I was invited to participate as a guest,. In this paper I understand pilgrimage as a communal spiritual journey and analyze the roles the collective and individual play in it, as well as how and by what means the participants cocreate and experience constructs of place and space.

Ana Luiza de Oliveira e Silva

This article explores how the Nigerien intellectual and politician Boubou Hama (1906/09–1982) represented the relationship between Islamic and “traditional” educational ideals. Based on an understanding that Islamic education was closely linked to the historical dissemination and establishment of Islam, Hama advanced a particular interpretation of the reception and circulation of Muslim knowledge in West Africa. He argued that, first, the presence of Islam should be understood in its African historical context; second, that the foundations of African culture were equally “traditional” and Islamic; and third, that the forms of education that had shaped such culture could be used as the basis for a political plan of development. By doing so, Hama asserted that just as Islam was crucial to the continent’s history, it was a central part of Africa’s engagement with the wider world.

Insa Nolte

In West Africa, Muslim learning has historically been shaped by two key engagements: the participation in wider Islamic debates and the co-existence with non-Muslims. In the twentieth and twenty-first century, Islamic education in West Africa was transformed by the imposition of the secular state and Western education. But as Muslims encountered secularism and Christianity, they also increasingly drew on pedagogies that emanated from Middle Eastern and Asian Islam. The articles in this Special Issue illustrate that as Islamic scholars and leaders from different backgrounds engaged simultaneously with the diversity of global Islam and the growing presence of secular and Christian institutions, they developed a multiplicity of educational practices and visions. Thus learning to be Muslim in West Africa reflects both the engagement with Islamic discourse and debates about the boundaries of Islam.