Past Conferences and Lectures

2017-2018 Activities

May 1, 2018—briefing: "Reflections on Thirty Years of Muslim-Christian Relations in Egypt" with Cornelis Hulsman. There is an urgent need for more fieldwork in Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt.  Too much reporting on these issues is either ideologically motivated or supported by insufficient data. Through an exploration of case studies, including the conversion of Christians to Islam (1995-1996), the El-Koshh massacre (2000), the land conflict around the monastery of Abu Fana (2008), church building in Marinab (2011), the blasphemy case of Kafr Darwish (2015), and the efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power (2011-2013), Cornelis Hulsman discussed his years of experience spent navigating the significant complexities that characterize Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt. By pushing beyond the paralyzing stereotypes often believed about Egypt and the Middle East more generally, this presentation discussed both the challenges and opportunities for improved interreligious relations in the Arab world's most populous country. 

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April 26, 2018—briefing: "SCL and Cambridge Analytica: peering inside the propaganda machine" with Dr. Emma L. Briant. Cambridge Analytica, and their parent company SCL Group hit the headlines recently, when, after their work on the Trump campaign, reporting exposed misuse of Facebook data, linked them to ‘Brexit’, unethical conduct in international elections and revealed their relationship to defense propaganda contracts in the West. Dr. Briant has spent over a decade researching SCL and Cambridge Analytica, she drew on substantial contacts she developed in her work on defense propaganda (see: Propaganda and Counter-terrorism: Strategies for Global Change Manchester University Press, 2015) to research an upcoming book What’s Wrong with the Democrats? Media Bias, Inequality and the rise of Donald Trump (co-authored with George Washington University professor Robert M. Entman) and academic publications on the EU referendum. In this talk Dr. Briant discussed her analysis of the company’s activities in each of these areas, how she gained such unique access to key executives who worked in an elite and secretive field, as well as the important implications of the key evidence she recently submitted to several public inquiries in the UK.


April 25, 2018—book talk: "A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi‘is" with John McHugo. The talk began by covering the decades following the death of the Prophet Muhammad which ended with civil war engulfing the Muslim community. This crucial historical background is necessary to understand how Muslims became divided between those who found guidance in the recollections of the Prophet's Companions, and those who sought it through the Prophet's family and descendants. In time, these two groups developed into what we now call Sunnis and Shi'is. The two groups were not always confrontational towards each other. They also overlapped and cross-fertilised.

"A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi‘is" - The 1400-year-old schism between Sunnis and Shi‘is has rarely been as toxic as it is today, feeding wars and communal strife in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other countries, with tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran escalating. In this richly layered and engrossing account, John McHugo reveals how this great divide occurred. Charting the story of Islam from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad to the present day, he describes the conflicts that raged over the succession to the Prophet, how Sunnism and Shi‘ism evolved as different sects during the Abbasid caliphate, and how the rivalry between the empires of the Sunni Ottomans and Shi‘i Safavids contrived to ensure that the split would continue into modern times. Now its full, destructive force has been brought out by the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for the soul of the Muslim world. Definitive and insightful, A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi‘is shows that there was nothing inevitable about the sectarian conflicts that now disfigure Islam. It is an essential guide to understanding the genesis, development and manipulation of the great schism that has come to define Islam and the Muslim world.

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April 18, 2018—briefing: "It is Your Right to Buy a Divorce: Judicial Khuluu in Zanzibar" with Erin Stiles. Judicial khuluu (<Ar. khulc) in Zanzibar differs from judicial khulc in Arab countries that have recently introduced it through legislative reform. In Zanzibar’s Islamic courts, khuluu is used primarily as a judicial mechanism for ending a marriage when a judge determines a wife to be responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. Zanzibari women rarely file forkhuluu because it is expensive and is associated with a woman’s failure in her marriage. This talk explored why judges in Zanzibar regard khuluu as a punitive measure that can be used to end a marriage when a woman is determined to be responsible for the marital discord, or when there are no grounds for judicial dissolution through fasikhi (<Ar. faskh, annulment). Zanzibari judges view khuluu as a right that a woman can exercise to extricate herself from marriage, a right that they sometimes encourage in court.

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April 17, 2018—briefing: "Examining the Sharia ‘Revolution’ in Northern Nigeria: The Infamous Stoning Case of Amina Lawal" with Sarah Eltantawi. Starting in 1999, twelve northern Nigerian states began the process of reimplimenting full shari’ia penal codes in response to massive grassroots demand. A few years later, the process was widely considered a failure and attention was turned to battling the ascendancy of Boko Haram. In 2002, a peasant woman named Amina Lawal was sentenced to death by stoning for committing the crime of zinā, or illegal sexual activity. A year later she was acquitted before attentive eyes worldwide. This lecture examined the historical and cultural factors at work in the call to reimpliment sharia penal codes in Northern Nigeria, examined the stoning punishment in the Islamic tradition, and analyzed the questions of gender and the western reaction to Amina Lawal’s case.


April 11, 2018—briefing: "The Ambivalence of Islam in US Foreign Policy" with Peter Mandaville. Reflecting on his three years working at the State Department during the Obama administration, Mandaville discussed the complex and at times contradictory approaches to Islam and Muslims that have characterized recent U.S. administrations. He explored the legacy of Obama’s famed 2009 Cairo speech, US policy towards Islamist parties during the Arab Uprisings and their aftermath, as well as efforts to address the rise of ISIS. He also assessed how the Trump administration has approached these same issues. Arguing that Republican and Democratic administrations alike have followed a policy of “Muslim exceptionalism,” he highlighted some of the challenges associated with governments engaging world religion as an object of diplomacy.


April 4, 2018—book talk: "Muslim Americans: Debating the Notions of American and un-American" with Nahid Afrose Kabir. In his effort to free Americans from British colonization, Thomas Jefferson pointed out the difference between an American citizen and a British subject. The difference therefore marked who was American and who was un-American. Since then within the United States the term ‘un-American’ has become increasingly popular. During the McCarthy era in the Cold War period there was a hunt for those who were ‘un-American’. During the Bush administration’s ‘War on Terror’, ‘un-American’ became a marker for Americans who opposed U.S. foreign policy. On January 27, 2017, President Trump’s executive order on ‘Muslim ban’ from entering the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries, once again resumed the debate whether President Trump’s ‘order’ should be considered ‘un-American’. Though the term, ‘un-American’ has political connotations, in her recent book, Muslim Americans: Debating the Notions of American and Un-American, Nahid Kabir engaged with the term in dialogue with young American Muslims in the years preceding the Trump administration. As the author undertakes a rigorous questioning of what it means to be American and un-American in the contemporary American society, she discovers its interpretation upon historical, cultural, sociological and political foundations. Her book is based on 400 in-depth interviews with Muslim Americans (aged 15 years and over), from seven states: Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Michigan and New Jersey.

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March 28, 2018—briefing: "Jersualem: Christian Perspectives" with Drew Christiansen, S.J. Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian officials closed the Holy Sepulchre for two days earlier this month, excluding thousands of disappointed pilgrims. The closure was intended as a protest of the Jerusalem Municipality’s pending law to tax church-owned commercial property. The closure of the Basilica was a bold symbol of Christians’ struggle to retain their roots in the holy city after Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Father Christiansen, a canon of the Holy Sepulchre, discussed the threats the two-thousand-year-old Christian community experiences in its effort to remain in the city made holy by the death and resurrection of Jesus. He also addressed their hopes for the future of Jerusalem and the place of three Abrahamic religions in peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine and with the international community.


March 22, 2018—panel discussion: "Religious Intolerance and America’s Image and Policies Abroad." Cosponsored with President’s Office for Global Engagement, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, the Center for Jewish Civilization, and Georgetown University Campus Ministry.  The values of the American Creed – pluralism, diversity, and tolerance – sustain U.S. global leadership and provide an aspiration to others. These principles contribute to the appeal and influence of the United States on the global stage. Insidious intolerance and delegitimizing rhetoric domestically undermines these ideals and provides space for hate crimes and degrading actions, threatening to devalue the currency of U.S. power. This panel discussion examines the impact of subtle and overt forms of domestic religious intolerance on the U.S. image and ability to pursue our policy objectives abroad. Looking forward, what can the U.S. government and civil society do to shape the narrative, rhetoric, and policies in the United States to preserve these unique components of our power?


February 21, 2018—briefing: "On Gender, Justice, and Change: Muslim Women's Activism as Practice and Discourse" with Juliane HammerBased on a decade of research on Muslim women’s activism, both globally and in the U.S., this talk offers reflections on the relationship between activism as practice and the role of interpretation, especially of the Qur’an, as both discourse and practice. It considers notions of gender justice and equality in their relationship to the construction of Islam as tradition on one hand and the influence of feminist theory on the other. Examples include the work of Musawah, a transnational Muslim women’s activist network, and domestic violence awareness work in the United States.

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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 PurohitJamal 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, overdetermining 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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