In search of common ground: Towards a dialogue between the anthropology of Christianity and Islam

22 - 23 September 2016
Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oxford

Convened by: Leslie Fesenmyer, Giulia Liberatore & Ammara Maqsood

The workshop stems from an interest in developing common ground between the anthropology of Islam and Christianity. In recent years, the ethnographic study of Muslim and Christian societies has centred on the moral or ethical life of pious individuals. This shared focus has resulted in a common concern: how are religious commitments balanced with other obligations and aspirations? Despite this and many other commonalities, there appears to be little conversation between these two disciplinary strands. For instance, debates on ethical self-cultivation and moral ambivalence in Islam rarely consider parallel tensions in Pentecostalism between “born again” Christian life and attachment to past relations and ways of being.

This lack of dialogue is surprising given that Christianity and Islam have similar theological and historical roots, and share a long history of exchange at the level of scholastic dialogue and in terms of popular and lay traditions. Both traditions have drawn on similar texts, historical figures, and points of reference. These exchanges continue today, as Christians and Muslims live side by side, and often show an interest in each other’s beliefs and practices. Proximity and close interactions – whether in person or mediated through new technologies – often lead to fear and anxiety relating to the “other”. At the same time, however, they allow space for cross-fertilization and exchange in pedagogical techniques, and popular and scholastic understandings of ethical and religious lives.

In anthropological discussions on the lives of Christians and Muslims, such exchanges have not garnered sustained attention. The aim of this workshop, then, is not only to draw these two disciplinary strands into a conversation, but also to consider a common language that would be sensitive to these shared histories and ethnographic realities. Do discourses on ethics, humanism and, more recently, existential anthropology possess the potential to serve as a meeting space? Or, perhaps, the answer lies in a return to the broader category of “religion”? The hope is that we may add further historical depth to anthropological accounts of religious lives and generate comparative insights that encourage theorising beyond the confines of disciplinary strands.

Schedule

Thursday 22 September

230: Coffee

300: Introductions and opening remarks: Ammara Maqsood, Leslie Fesenmyer, Giulia Liberatore

330 – 530: PANEL 1
Marloes Janson (SOAS) Crossing Borders: The Case of NASFAT or ‘Islamic Pentecostalism’ in Nigeria
Insa Nolte (University of Birmingham) Towards an anthropology of Muslim-Christian encounter Reflections on interfaith marriage in southwest Nigeria
Mathijs Pelkmans (LSE) Evangelical and Tablighi Pioneers on Post-Atheist Frontiers
Discussant: Zuzanna Olszewska (University of Oxford)

700: Dinner at St Catherine’s College

Friday 23rd September

930 – 1200: PANEL 2
David Henig (University of Kent) ‘You need to have something humane inside you’: Charitable economies and ethic of immediacy as an actually existing common ground in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina
Giulia Liberatore (University of Oxford) Muslim women and gendered temporalities in Britain: Time in the anthropology of Islam and Christianity
Girish Daswani (University of Toronto) On Conversation and Context: Ethics and the dialogue
between the anthropology of Christianity and Islam
Discussant: Fenella Cannell (London School of Economics)

1200 – 100: Lunch

100 – 300: PANEL 3
Alice Elliot (University of Bristol) A common everyday? Islam, Christianity, and the location of comparison
Leslie Fesenmyer (University of Oxford) ‘Muslims’ as example and threat: How Kenyan Pentecostals in London navigate the present
Ammara Maqsood (University of Oxford) Islam is everywhere: some reflections on the divide between piety and everyday
Discussant: Morgan Clarke (University of Oxford)

330 – 430: Closing discussion: Robert Hefner (Boston University)

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