We are seeking proposals for fresh papers to be presented at a small, publication-driven conference on female religious authority in the modern Islamic world at Oxford University on May 8-9 2009. Please submit 500-750 word abstracts by 31 December 2008 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ability of women to exercise various types of Islamic religious authority has increased significantly since the early twentieth century, especially during the last two or three decades. Existing scholarship, however, has focused overwhelmingly on certain facets of this increase, in particular female leadership through Sufi groups and attempts to reinterpret Islam to accommodate gender equality, whether through an explicitly ‘feminist’ framework or not.
Missing from the literature is serious analysis of the growing acceptance of women within mosques and madrasas, spaces which have long been centres of Islamic authority but from which women have traditionally been excluded or marginalised. The acceptance of female leadership and activities in these spaces is a significant change from historic practices, signalling the mainstream acceptance of (some forms of) female Islamic leadership. The nature, dynamics and scope of female leadership activities within mosques vary widely, with differences between (and within) North Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and diaspora communities in North America and Europe.
Very few scholars have attempted to apply the exciting work on changing structures of Islamic authority to the activities of women, despite the fact that these changes are what have enabled women to take a much more active role within the religious sphere. Crucially, a fully-contextualised account of the activities of these groups often requires time-intensive fieldwork, making it difficult for a single author to consider multiple contexts in a monograph.
This conference will energize scholarship on Muslim women by bringing together scholars with geographically-diverse expertise to focus specifically on female leadership in mosques and madrasas and the structure of religious authority that enable or limit these activities.
The papers presented at this conference will investigate
-- how women active in mosques and madrasas construct their authority as leaders,
-- the impact they have on their students and the wider community, and
-- how they use public space in mosques and madrasas,
and present the rich social, political, economic and historical contexts of these activities.
Women draw on a wide variety of sources – scholarly credentials, charisma, family ties, teaching experience – to construct their authority as leaders and teachers. This authority is not limitless, however, and both the constraints placed upon their activities and their ability to influence society are important parts of the overall picture.
Scholars already attending include
-- Maria Jaschok (Oxford University), a specialist on China,
-- Pieternella Van Doorn (Valparaiso University), a specialist on Indonesia, and
-- Catharina Raudvere (University of Copenhagen), whose current work focuses on Bosnia.
-- 31 December 2008: ABSTRACTS DUE (500-750 words, sent to email@example.com )
-- 10 January 2009: Participants notified by email
-- Friday 8 May – Saturday 9 May 2009: Conference at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford
Papers will be circulated beforehand to maximize time for discussion and exchange of ideas. Authors will have the option of resubmitting papers after the conference for publication. Funding to cover travel expenses will unfortunately be limited and applicants are strongly encouraged to seek assistance from their home institutions.
WHO WE ARE:
The conference is being organized by Hilary Kalmbach, Masooda Bano and Walter Armbrust.
-- Masooda Bano is an ESRC postdoctoral fellow at Oxford’s Department of International Development and has an article in the Journal of Islamic Studies (18:1, 2007) as well as a forthcoming monograph on Pakistani madrasas.
-- Hilary Kalmbach is an Oxford doctoral student whose master’s thesis on the religious authority of female mosque instructors in Syria won the 2007 BRISMES Graduate Article Prize and was subsequently published in the British Journal for Middle Eastern Studies (35:1, 2008). Her current work includes looking at the historical dimensions of this phenomenon.
-- Walter Armbrust is Hourani Fellow and University Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern Studies, as well as the resident anthropologist at Oxford’s Middle East Centre. He looks at structures of authority in his work on patriarchy in twentieth and twenty-first-century Egypt.
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