Middle East Studies

Islam and the Humanities 2019 Conference – the Primacy of Form

event poster

Friday, October 25 –
Saturday, October 26, 2019

Room 305, Pembroke Hall
172 Meeting St.

Registration requested

2019 Islam and the Humanities conference

This exploratory conference proposes that the vast diversity of ideas and practices associated with Islam deserve investigation through presuming continuities and divergences between forms. In the prevailing contours of Islamic studies as an academic field, pride of place is given to genealogies of ideas, theological precepts, and practices. What if we stand apart from problems of coherence and incoherence of ideas, or the effort to seek logics of practice?

What can be said to support, or contest, the notion that forms articulate Islam? How might we address forms, for example those embodied in structures and genres, with due attention to historicity and without presuming Islamic universals? Forms do not bind to permanent ideological investments, allowing us to explain Islam’s sociohistorical unboundedness. Forms that predate the mention of Islam become Islamic through particular historical processes. Forms identified with Islam can shed their Islamicness and acquire new coordinates in other contexts. Such transitions explicate the significance, yet permeability, of all boundaries, challenging Islam’s exceptionality. In the longue durée, forms can explain diachronic continuities. When observed turning into vessels for new ideas, forms index processes of change and transformation. Identified as literary genres and bureaucratic procedures, forms signify processes of authorization and exclusion.

This conference is sponsored by Islam and the Humanities at Brown, a project aimed at forging deliberate connections between the study of Islam and Muslims and topics engaged by scholars in the humanities in general. Through collective effort, the event hopes to stimulate new thinking on Islamic forms while, simultaneously, suggesting that Islam is an exceptionally good venue to query the very concept of form.

Workshops, Conferences, Seminars


Friday, October 25, 2019

9:15 – 9:30 a.m.

Welcoming Remarks and Introductions

Shahzad Bashir, Brown University

9:30 – 11:00 a.m. 

Panel 1

William Sherman, University of North Carolina, Charlotte: “The Imitable Quran
Jahfar Shareef Pokkanali, University of Bonn: “Thinking Through Bricolage(s): Problematizing ‘Islamic Architecture’ in the Littorals of South India
Respondent: Jamal Elias

11:00–11:30 a.m.


11:30 a.m. – 1:00 pm.

Panel 2

Kamaluddin Ahmed, Oxford University: “The Mukhtaṣar (Compendium) in Islamic Scholarship
Seema Golestaneh, Cornell University: “The Shape of Texts to Come: Shifting Archival and Publishing Practices of a Shi’i Sufi Order in Iran
Respondent: Lara Harb

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.


2:00 – 3:30 p.m. 

Panel 3

Allison Kanner-Botan, University of Chicago: “Mas̱navī Elaborations: The Fictionalization of Laylī o Majnūn
Emily Drumsta, Brown University: “Mahfouz’s Sufi Noir: Mysticism and Literary Form in Egypt Around 1960
Respondent: Amir Moosavi

3:30 – 4:00 p.m.


4:00 – 5:30 p.m. 

Panel 4

Ahoo Najafian, Carleton College: ““It was Tomorrow:” On Postmodern Ghazal
Meghaa Ballakrishnen, Johns Hopkins University: “Nasreen Mohamedi’s Sources: Islamic Metaphysics and Avant-Garde Abstraction
Respondent: Aisha Ghani

7:15 p.m.

Official Dinner at Restaurant for Participants and Invited Guests

Saturday, October 26, 2019

9:30 – 11:00 a.m.

Panel 5

Katherine Bruhn, University of California, Berkeley: “Expressing Minangkabau Piety: Forms of Islam and the work of Handiwirman Saputra
Ali Karjoo-Ravary, Bucknell University: “The Ghazal as Islam’s Garment: Poetic Form Between Imitation and Inimitability
Respondent: Margaret Graves

11:00 – 11:30 a.m.


11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Panel 6

Jamel Velji, Claremont McKenna College: “Forming (Divine) Remembrance: Coffee Cups and the Making of Muslim Memory
Terenjit Sevea, University of Pennsylvania: “Shamans, Saivas and Sufis?: Tiger Forms of ‘Ali in the Malay world
Respondent: Yael Rice

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.