Dr. Sarah Tobin

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Postdoctoral Fellow POINT (2013)

Everyday Pieties: Negotiating Islam and the Economy in Amman, Jordan.

Everyday Pieties: Negotiating Islam and the Economy in Amman, Jordan.

My proposed book manuscript for this research project, entitled, "Branding Islam: Islamic Symbols in Jordanian Newspapers Published in the 20th Century," explores the concepts and processes of visual consumption as it brings forth information and negotiates the constructions of identities as both Islamic and modern. Muslim identities are constructed through these consumption practices, where modern religious symbols are understood as “authentically Islamic” in a public vetting. Advertising in newspapers is an especially important avenue for this because it plays a generative role that mediates consumption and identity formation for Muslims in Amman, Jordan. Advertising influences demand by putting forth ideas that derive from the cultural and religious powers at play, destabilizing consumer preferences, and providing a new means to convey an innovative arrangement of ideas and symbols.

In this study, I trace a history of the usage of symbols of Islam in print newspapers in Amman, Jordan, in the 20th C. Then I focus on how Islam is used in advertisements to “brand” given products or services, reflecting both the developing character of an “authentic Islam” and the projected images of “the modern life.” I examine the patterns of consumption, repetition and durability of certain symbols and combinations in advertising, and their larger acceptance into the Islamic public sphere, paying close attention to sex and gender throughout. This study is the first of its kind, and it promises to be a comprehensive and innovative look into the diversity and “vetting” of Islamic piety in the very public forum of newspapers.

During the Postdoc period, I will return to Amman, Jordan during the off-session and summer months to collect remaining images, to obtain copyright permissions, and to conduct necessary interviews with newspaper staffs and managers. My primary writing goal for this Postdoc is to further develop the more analytical and argumentative qualities of the book’s thesis, to receive feedback from faculty mentors including Dr. Hansjörg Dilgeron in the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Professor Dr. Ulrike Freitag in the Zentrum Moderner Orient, as well as other faculty in the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies and the Research Unit Intellectual History of the Islamicate World to fully explore the theoretical genealogies and implications that are important to this study, and to finalize a book prospectus and sample chapters that I will send to a University Press for a book contract and publication. I also anticipate completing at least one journal-length distillation of the book for peer-review publication, and provide and receive feedback with the other Postdocs in their own projects. Finally, I look forward to working with faculty mentors across the Center for Area Studies for professional guidance obtaining further research funding for this project and other research projects that grow from it.