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Workshop: "The “Ethical” and the “Everyday”: Interrogating analytical turns for/in the study of Islam and Muslims in Europe"

Nov 29, 2018 - Nov 30, 2018


Organized by Zubair Ahmad, Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, Freie Universität Berlin and Amin El-Yousfi, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge.


Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

                Mayanthi Fernando (University of California, Santa Cruz)

                Samuli Schielke (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin)



For quite some time now, the analytics of a 'cultural turn' have been informing the study of Islam and Muslims. Enhanced through Clifford Geertz's seminal work on Balinese and Moroccan cultures, Talal Asad was among the first to point out the assumptive (Weberian and Durkheimian) dichotomies that Geertz based his analysis of religion on; leading him “into making ill-founded assertions about motives, meanings, and effects relating to ‘religion.’” (Asad 2009 [1986]:18). In consequence, this critique led Asad to conceptualize Islam as a discursive tradition, allowing scholars of Islam and Muslims to “understand the historical conditions that enable the production and maintenance of specific discursive traditions, or their transformation and the efforts of practitioners to achieve coherence.” (Asad 2009 [1986]:23). This framework, then, resulted in an “ethical turn” (Agrama 2010; Fassin 2014, 429–435), particularly within the disciplines of anthropology as well as Islamic studies (Katz 2015, 3–4), displacing the focus from the cultural meaning to the ethical self-identification of Muslims (Mahmood 2005, Abu Lughod1998, Hirschkind 2006). In addition to the focus on the ethical, new avenues of enquiry have turned toward “everyday” Islam and its “ordinary” practices by Muslims. The work of Samuli Schielke (2009, 2012, 2015) has been considered important in this regard, introducing yet another turn. Scholars working on Islam and Muslims, however, have argued that the opposition between the “ethical” and the “everyday” have produced a whole set of dichotomies that pathologize Muslims as pious/exceptional/revivalist vs. ordinary/real/imitator (Fadil and Fernando 2015). At stake, as the ongoing debate suggests, are central questions concerning Muslims and freedom, agency, subjectivity, virtue, embodiment, selfhood, and authority.


Against this backdrop, this workshop seeks to provide a forum for critically engaging with the analytics of the “ethical” and the “everyday” in the study of Islam and Muslims in Europe. Accompanied by Mayanthi Fernando (University of California, Santa Cruz) and Samuli Schielke (ZMO, Berlin) as keynote speakers, the workshop will have three interrelated aims: Firstly, to bring into conversation and rigorously interrogate two key analytical turns in the study of Islam and Muslims: the “ethical turn” and the turn toward “the everyday”. By doing so, secondly, to make transparent their modes of enquiry as well as the analytical purchase they suggest and might hold. And, finally, to apply these turns, in a more systematic way, to the study of Islam and Muslims in Europe. The workshop is particularly interested in scrutinizing, and discussing the analytical value and implications of both these turns. What is, we ask, the analytical purchase of these turns within the study of Islam and Muslims in Europe? What, furthermore, might escape our attention while preferring one turn among the other? What happens in the “process of inquiry” while ascribing analytical weight to one rather than the other? In short, what value do these turns hold, offer, suggest, and toward what analytical consequences? And, finally, how are and can both be thought and utilized in a productive and forward-looking way for future research?



Call for Papers and format:

 While we are happy to include paper presentations which rigorously address theoretical discussions as well as analytical and methodological reflections on the “ethical” and “everyday”, we encourage panellists to particularly pay attention to the study of Islam and Muslims in Europe from within the “ethical” and “everyday” turn – without necessarily assuming a clear-cut dichotomy between both. In doing so, papers should be both ethnographically based on European context, and illustrative analytically or methodologically of one or both of the two turns. Papers invested in the “ontological turn” by a reference to the “ethical” or the “everyday” are also welcome. Also, we invite submissions to take into consideration the complexities of positionality and representation, particularly within the larger political economy of knowledge production vis-à-vis Islam and Muslims.


Name, Institution/affiliation, short-biography, contact details must be submitted along with abstracts (300-500 words). All abstracts should be sent by August 31st to Amin El-Yousfi (ae375@cam.ac.uk <mailto:ae375@cam.ac.uk> ) and Zubair Ahmad (zubair@zedat.fu-berlin.de <mailto:zubair@zedat.fu-berlin.de> ). Applicants will be notified by September 9th about the outcome of their submission. Successful applicants will each have 30 minutes of presentation time, plus Q&A. The format will involve sending the workshop paper (2500-3000 words) to the relevant discussant two weeks ahead of the workshop (15th November). Following the workshop, participants will be invited to submit developed papers for a special issue of a leading journal.



We are most grateful for the sponsorship of the Centre of Islamic Studies (www.cis.cam.ac.uk <http://www.cis.cam.ac.uk/> ) and the Woolf Institute (www.woolf.cam.ac.uk <http://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/> ).


Time & Location

Nov 29, 2018 - Nov 30, 2018

University of Cambridge