World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010



· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Department of Religious Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen (The Netherlands) and Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Leeds (UK)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Karin van Nieuwkerk and Kamal Salhi

· NOT_DEFINED sponsor: Network Project, “Performance, Politics and Piety” funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economics and Social Research Council

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: In many parts of the Muslim world as well as among Muslims in Europe new forms of pious arts are being developed. Art and religion are creatively merged and a variety of genres ranging from the more traditional religious anasheed songs to Islamic hip hop, rap, soaps, stand up comedy and video clips have become popular. Whereas some artists prefer to work in the mainstream, others are working in separate religious niches. Yet in both cases these artistic production tend to question the categories of ‘art’ and ‘Islam’. Art is made to embody ‘Islamic’ values, whereas in the process of doing so ‘Islamic’ messages have been transformed as well. These pious productions are heavily contested within and outside pious circles, by religious actors, artists and publics as well as the state. Pious art has become an important means to debate contemporary notions of modern Islam as well as the aesthetics and ethics of art. The growing influence of piety among a larger segment of the publics in both the Middle East and Europe has given a boost towards the development of a religious market. Also discourses by religious scholars have seen a movement towards ‘post-Islamist’ inclusive visions on art and entertainment. This panel aims to study the different developments in artistic productions, religious discourses and pious markets in various countries. It particularly addresses the Islamic ethics that are embodied in these art productions and the aesthetics forms which have been created to convey religious ideas. The purpose of this panel is to trace: -The shifts in religious discourses on art and entertainment - The new artistic forms developed by artists aimed at combining religion and art- The shifting sensibilities of the public creating new avenues and markets for religious forms of art and entertainment -The reception of the pious art productions by various audiences - The ways in which Islamic ethics are translated into aesthetic forms

Chair: Karin van Nieuwkerk, Department of Religious Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen

Discussant: Amal Boubekeur, Carnegie Middle East Center

Paper presenter: Anne Rasmussen, The College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, Virginia, USA), “The Aesthetics of Arab Music, Language, and Performance in the Worlds of Indonesian Islam”
Although Indonesia is often glossed as ‘the country with the largest Muslim population in the world’ the country’s Islamic traditions are rarely seen as normative. Rather, because of the archipelago’s position in the Southeastern Indian ocean, far from the authentic Muslim lands of the Arab world, because of its Hindu-Buddhist cultural legacy, and because of the suppression of Muslim energies during the long period of Dutch colonial rule, Indonesian Muslim practice has often been characterized as impure syncretism. This paper repositions Indonesia’s prominence during the last half millennium in the development of pious art productions by looking at the rich world of Indonesian Islamic music that is produced by women and men in the circum-Indian Ocean Islamic world. Key to Indonesian Islamic arts, from the recitation of the Qur’an are the aesthetics of Arabic language and music, which, I argue constitute a global aesthetic system that Indonesian artists both reference and resist depending on their cultural background and political orientation. From seashore to department store the contexts and contents of Islamic music in Indonesia represents a vibrant and meaningful stream of Indonesian culture as well as an aspect of global Islam that is creative, dynamic and sophisticated.

Paper presenter: Deborah Kapchan, New York University, “Listeracies of Listening: Sacred Affect, Aural Pedagogies and the Spread of Sufi Islam”
How does sound encode sacred affect? And how is sacred sound, and thus sacred emotion, learned? While much has been written on spiritual belief from the point of view of narrative (Harding 2001; Woolard and Schieffelin 1994) and the body (Csordas 1994), less attention has been paid to the power of ‘sound’ and, more importantly, listening, to shape sacred identities and create community. This article attends to the aural dimensions of sacred ritual performance focusing on the role of music, chanting as well as listening and utterance in the performance of ‘Sufi Music’ in public venues in France. Moving respectively through the social context, the ritual form and analytical frames, I end by explicating what I refer to as a ‘literacy of listening’ (Kapchan 2008) that is, the acquired ability to learn other cultures (specifically religious cultures, though not exclusively these) through participating in its sound economy. How do learned auditory and sound practices transport a once local and ecstatic religion (based on one charismatic shakykh in northern Morocco) outside its point of origin? What do these communities of sacred affect perform in the larger public sphere of secular France and how do they transform it?

Paper presenter: Nina ter Laan, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands, “Islamic songs in Morocco: contesting the sacred”
As part of upcoming transnational religious markets, one of the forms of Islamic pious entertainment which have become very popular are Islamic songs, also known as anasheed. Though traditionally performed in specific settings such as zawiyas and childbirth celebrations, they are now performed in front of a live audience, addressing a young public and diffused through modern communication technology such as CD’s, videoclips and youtube. This paper will focus on contemporary anasheed (religious songs) in Morocco. Two cases will be presented and analyzed against the background of transnationalism and cultural politics. Transnational connections established through migration and new media have influenced experiences of local identity and cultural productions. Simultaneously, Morocco’s complex entanglement between nation, king and religion forms the background against which Islamist parties are trying to influence artistic expressions in the public sphere. This paper will show how both forces influence the creation and consumption of contemporary anasheed in Morocco.

Paper presenter: Mona Khedr , Flinders University, Australia, “The Gendered Identities of Egyptian Women in Performance”
Gender representations and the position of women in Islam are issues of ongoing debates in both the Muslim world and the West. Women in performance and women performers in Egypt are the subject of this paper. The paper examines the representation of a Muslim femininity on stage in a reading of Egyptian playwright Alfred Farag's The Last Walk (1999). It also presents a discussion of manifestations of religiosity among Egyptian female artists who opt to publically occupy a religious identity space to identify themselves and/or their artistic expression. The objective of this paper is to present an overview of the dominant discourses of gender in the context of contemporary Egypt and the influence of these discourses on artistic expression of femininity both on the stage and among female artists who choose to stress their religious/Islamic identities. The open-endedness of the Scriptural text has given enough room for other creative discursive strategies to take shape. To represent in performance or not has generally been a debatable question that polarised Muslim communities of old and new. This has particularly been pertinent to women's performance given the proscriptions on a woman's bodily display inherent in the religious text. Through Alfred Farag's The Last Walk (1999), the paper explores a performance of gender inequality in the Islamic context of Egyptian society. Farag's play, a one-woman-show produced for the stage in 1999, is an elaboration on gender discourses in the Egyptian society. The play problematises notions of agency, responsibility and victimhood. The paper offers a review of Egyptian female artists'' presence on the cultural scene. The diversity of ambivalent attitudes of/towards women performers influenced by the Egyptians'' religious outlook is explored through the examination of the case of the ''repentant'' Egyptian female artists. Repentant artists include actors, vocalists and belly-dancers, who due to the varying performance modes they were previously involved in tend to problematise the decision of their repentance/retirement differently. The paper argues that the position these female artists take on personal religiosity is representative of their own conscious willingness to reconstruct their pious subjectivities independently from male endorsement, but still within the bounds of an arts practice whose established secularity denies them visibility. The divergent brands of religiosity that these female artists demonstrate explicate new forms of non-Western feminist agencies that are otherwise unexplored or reductively deemed marginal being born within an Islamic culture.