Past Conferences and Lectures

2017-2018 Activities

February 14, 2018—briefing: "Cecil Brown: Journalism’s Crusader for Truth" with Reed Smith. Cecil Brown was a journalist from the 1930s until 1970 who, although he won all of broadcast journalism’s major awards, has been largely overlooked by media historians until now. After beginning his career as a freelance newspaper reporter, CBS hired Brown to become a member of the famous Edward R. Murrow European radio news team at the start of World War II. Brown reported from Italy, Yugoslavia, North Africa, Singapore and Australia, and survived the Japanese sinking of the British battleship Repulse. Upon returning to the U.S., Brown became a well-known radio commentator who eventually worked for all the major networks. Controversy followed him wherever he worked, as he made his living critiquing military and political issues of the day. Devoted to in-person research, overcoming censorship and employing intellectual analysis, Brown championed social justice and First Amendment freedom. A fellow scribe dubbed him a “crusader for truth.” Brown was often ahead of popular opinion when it came to speaking out about civil rights reform, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s demagoguery, President Dwight Eisenhower’s passivity, and student campus protests. His courage and integrity modeled how an independent journalist should behave. Cecil Brown was ACMCU Director Jonathan Brown’s great uncle.

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January 17, 2018—book launch: "Finding Jesus among Muslims" with Jordan Denari Duffner. Why should Christians engage in interfaith dialogue with Muslims? Does Islam have anything to offer Christians? What is Islamophobia, and what should we do about it? These are just some of the questions addressed in Finding Jesus among Muslims, an urgent new book from author Jordan Denari Duffner. Drawing from church teaching, the stories of saints and martyrs, and her extensive personal experiences living among Muslims in both the United States and the Middle East, Duffner explains why all Christians are called to participate in a “dialogue of life” with Muslims.


January 17, 2018—briefing: "Esotericism in Modern Muslim Thought: Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Rida, and the Bahai Question" with Teena Purohit. Jamal al-din al-Afghani (1838-1897), Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), Rashid Rida (1865-1935) are widely regarded as the founders of Islamic modernism, the religio-political movement (1840-1940) that first attempted to reconcile Islam in the modern period with European values of the Enlightenment. Scholars locate the development of their ideas primarily in relation to one another. Although it is no doubt the case that Al-Afghani was an important teacher for Abduh and Abduh the mentor of Rida, this mentor/mentee frame cannot account for ideas and developments outside an intellectual lineage model. This paper examines the place of esotericism—in particular Bahai thought—in Abduh’s writings which Rida, his biographer, vehemently opposed. Teena Purohit addressed how esoteric thinking has been either explicitly denounced or implicitly written out by modernists themselves as well as later historical accounts of Islamic modernism.


December 6, 2017—book talk: "The New Geopolitics of the South Caucasus: Prospects for Regional Cooperation and Conflict Resolution" with Shireen Hunter. This book examines the record of the three South Caucasian states—Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan since they gained independence twenty-five years ago. It assesses their progress in terms of developing modern economies and political institutions, forging their post-Soviet national identities and charting their course in international affairs. This book examines the causes of why these countries progress so far has been limited. The persistence of regional conflicts, international rivalries, especially between Russia and the West, over determining these states’ external relations and their domestic politics, as well as regional rivalries have played significant roles in limiting their success. The growing linkage between this region and the Middle East has also played a negative role in their evolution. Middle East rivalries, notably those between Iran and Israel and Iran and Saudi Arabia have tended to distort the evolution of these countries. Rising sectarian tensions in the Middle East have also adversely affected domestic politics of some of these states, especially majority Shia Azerbaijan, and have complicated relations between Sunnis and the Shias, thus undermining national unity. US-Iran hostility has kept the risk of a potential conflict with Iran affecting the region alive. It has also limited prospects for regional cooperation and conflict resolution. The various chapters of the book are written by experts from the region, Russia, Europe and the United States.

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November 16, 2017—book talk:"Jerusalem without God: Portrait of a Cruel City" with Paola Caridi. How has the ongoing political conflict in Jerusalem changed the nature of the city? If a public square is the epitome par excellence of a public space, of the free circulation and relations among its citizens, then Jerusalem is no longer a city, a public space shared by all communities. Jerusalem is a city where the ongoing conflict has transformed the parameters of co-existence into closed social spaces where access is controlled and limited according to ethno-religious affiliations. Is there a need for the international community to face the facts on the ground and change its paradigm for a stable and just solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Is it at all possible, for the Holy City, to be once again the conflict’s laboratory? Can we envision a One and Shared Jerusalem?

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November 15, 2017—booktalk: "The Beginnings of Islamic Law: Late Antique Islamicate Legal Traditions" with Lena Salaymeh. The Beginnings of Islamic Law is a major and innovative contribution to our understanding of the historical unfolding of Islamic law. Scrutinizing its historical contexts, the book proposes that Islamic law is a continuous intermingling of innovation and tradition. Salaymeh challenges the embedded assumptions in conventional Islamic legal historiography by developing a critical approach to the study of both Islamic and Jewish legal history. Through case studies of the treatment of war prisoners, circumcision, and wife-initiated divorce, she examines how Muslim jurists incorporated and transformed 'Near Eastern' legal traditions. She also demonstrates how socio-political and historical situations shaped the everyday practice of law, legal education, and the organization of the legal profession in the late antique and medieval eras. Aimed at scholars and students interested in Islamic history, Islamic law, and the relationship between Jewish and Islamic legal traditions, this book's interdisciplinary approach provides accessible explanations and translations of complex materials and ideas.

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October 25, 2017—book talk: "Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism: Illiberal Intelligentsia and the Future of Egyptian Democracy" with Dalia Fahmy & Daanish Faruqi. In their latest book, Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism, Dalia F. Fahmy and Daanish Faruqi investigate the putative about-face of a critical mass of prominent Egyptian liberal activists and intelligentsia, who despite spending full careers pursuing progressive reform under Mubarak ultimately remained silent in the face of, or outright lent support to, the counterrevolutionary forces that culminated in the military coup of July 2013. Using an interdisciplinary approach, engaging contributors from a wide array of perspectives and orientations, the editors ultimately argue that the latest failures of Egyptian liberals in the context of 2013 are indicative of a broader set of contradictions inherent in the liberal project in Egypt, from its institutional dimensions and frameworks -- from Egyptian party politics, to the judiciary, to civil society organizations -- to its ideological and philosophical foundations. In their talk, Fahmy and Faruqi will elaborate on these institutional and philosophical contradictions endemic to Egyptian liberalism, and offer potential correctives for rethinking liberalism in a manner that does sufficient justice to Egyptian social and cultural identity, and that overcomes its elitist and authoritarian proclivities. In so doing, they offer a corrective that goes beyond the confines of Egypt, in addressing the putative limitations of liberal political philosophy more broadly. Their presentation will be of wide interest for those in Law, Islamic Studies, Middle East Studies, Political Science, History, and students of liberal political thought alike.

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September 27, 2017—breifing: "Blood Sacrifice and the Myth of the Fallen Muslim Soldier in U.S. Presidential Elections" with Edward E. Curtis IV. One ultimate sign of political assimilation is the willingness of citizens to sacrifice themselves in battle for their nation. It is so central to nation-making that such sacrifices become the stuff of songs, memorials, and even myths. In the U.S. Presidential elections of 2008 and 2016, the blood sacrifice of two fallen soldiers named Khan was invoked by U.S. politicians such as Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton, who conjured images of these soldiers’ graves and memories of their lives in order to perform their commitment to the ideals of a liberal, multicultural consensus. By focusing on the incorporation of foreign Muslim blood into the nation, however, these politicians offered a partial, ambiguous acceptance—one that both included and excluded Muslims from the American body politic. The talk concluded by showing the limited effectiveness of this myth in national discourse as supporters of Donald Trump and some Muslim activists rejected its authority.


September 14, 2017—breifing: "Post-Arab Spring Middle East: Political Islam and Democracy" with Amr Darrag & Anas Altikriti. 


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