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Conference at Kings College London: Tolerance in Contemporary Muslim Thought and Practice

King’s College London, 16-17 March 2015, find the program of the conference here.

News from Mar 14, 2015

Tolerance in Contemporary Muslim Thought and Practice

The relationship between thought and practice has remained ambiguous. In the case of Muslim polities, this relationship has taken on a special salience. On the one hand, ideology and ideas are increasingly being used as a key explanatory variable in Muslim politics. On the other, the emphasis on practice –everyday, varied and contradictory- in some disciplines has allowed a much more nuanced picture of life in predominantly Muslim societies. This disconnect between the life of ideas, or political thought, and practice is all the more complicated to study in the contemporary period, given the difficulties of establishing clear connections in their messy, ongoing imbrications. The methodological and epistemological problem of engaging both thought and practice in the contemporary period- rather than in the past- has a much wider resonance, beyond the focus on Muslim polities. Bringing together scholars from a range of disciplines, this workshop aims to reflect on this wider issue through the prism of the concept of tolerance, and with an interest in exploring its place in Muslim political thought and practice. The interest is to not necessarily engage with thought as canonical writings or texts- although that too is welcome- but also through an engagement with social and political imaginaries, practices and their expressed rationales, and other kinds of texts. Over the last three decades the contours of liberal tolerance have been refined and debated but primarily with a focus on North Atlantic contexts, and without accessing pre-dominantly Muslim contexts as sites of new theoretical debates and insights. The question for us here, of course, is not to find something that looks like liberal tolerance in Muslim politics but to work through the specific delineations of ideas and practices that allow or support coexistence with difference: on what terms and in what ways does this happen, if at all. It may also be that there are other more capacious modes of engaging with the 'other' than liberal tolerance would allow for. At the same time, the prospect that liberal tolerance may not be a possibility in Muslim polities is an important challenge that needs to be seriously engaged with. Thus, it remains useful to ask some questions of a fundamental and critical nature: What are the precise forms and norms of tolerance in Muslim polities? Is there such a thing as particularly ‘Muslim’ form of tolerance?

Abstract: Panel with Mohammad M. Mojaheddi

“Toleration in Islam?” Reframing a Post-Islamist Question in a Post-Secular Context

An intellectual project against Islamism, a post-modern worldview outshining it, or an era thereafter, post-Islamism has become the seedbed of a host of emergent reformist intellectual projects in or about Muslim-majority societies worldwide. In a post-secular context of debate beyond the religious-secular division, this paper is a critical-rational investigation of the post-Islamist question of “toleration in Islam.” In this paper I particularly focus on the literature generated by Iranian post-Islamist Muslim reformists on the question of “toleration in Islam” as a prototypical trend of post-Islamism in the Muslim world. The leading argument that will be examined here suggests that this debate, suffering to the bone from the ‘poverty of culturalism,’ has been confusing rather than enlightening, and self-destructive rather than critically constructive.

Whereas the question of toleration is chiefly political, post-Islamists conceive of it in culturalist terms, reducing politics to culture, culture to religiosity, religiosity to religious knowledge, and religious knowledge to scholarly interpretations of religious core texts. Thus understood, culturalism signifies different degrees of combining all or some of the following fallacious reductions: cultural determinism, religionism, religious cognitivism, and interpretative textualism. Ironically enough, culturalism featuring post-Islamist projects in and about Muslim-majority societies also constitutes the bedrock of Islamist zealotry, which they intend to degenerate. Poor and futile at all analytical, explanatory, normative, and emancipatory levels, culturalism has tripped post-Islamist discourse on “toleration in Islam” into a trap of self-destruction through a mechanism in which a reified notion of culture not only de-politicizes the question of “toleration in Islam,” but also self-destructively bolsters its Islamist and orientalist rivals. At a heuristic level of analysis, the idea of a necessary shift will be examined, a post-secular shift to re-politicize the question of “toleration in Islam” and transform it to a question about “the ‘conditions’ of tolerance in Muslim-majority societies.” The main conjecture here suggests this shift requires post-Islamists to put aside their chief strategy of generating toleration-friendly accounts of Islam. Instead, it seems more constructive if they endeavor to recognize socio-political and politico-economic ‘conditions,’ under which more tolerant ways of Muslim religiosity take relatively wider popularity in a Muslim-majority society such as Iran. Partly context-specific and partly general, these ‘conditions’ are neither theological nor cultural.

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