EUME Workshop
Mon 22 Jun 2015 | 09:30–17:00

Authority, Tradition and Critique in the Modern State

Convened by Nada Moumtaz (Ohio State University / EUME Fellow 2014/2015), Karim Sadek (American University Beirut / EUME Fellow 2014/2015), Yazan Doughan (University of Chicago / Affiliated EUME Fellow 2014/2015)

Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

Workshop report of the conveners

Schirin Amir-Moazami (Freie Universität Berlin)
Humeira Iqtidar (King's College London)
Hussein Ali Agrama (University of Chicago)
Maeve Cooke (University College Dublin)
Ruth Mas (University of Colorado)

These are times of crisis in that almost all political concepts and ideals are being contested. Such contestations have taken increased salience in the context of post-uprising Arab World: state borders are being questioned and disregarded (by the Islamic State for instance), constitutions are being rewritten (in Tunisia and Egypt for example), and populations are being relocated. In the midst of such a crisis where everything seems to be up for grabs, the need to get clear on the criteria for evaluating and assessing social and political critique is at its highest. What is the nature, ground, and limits of authoritative critique?

In her influential reflections on the status and nature of authority in the modern world, political philosopher Hannah Arendt argued that the concept of authority, as rooted in the past by way of religion and/or tradition, is now lost to us. She also maintained that this loss has given way to other kinds of political and social relations in the modern world through coercion and persuasion. The fact that, today, the modern state claims ultimate authority combined with the dominant view that critique is necessarily a secular practice born out of the enlightenment, raises serious concerns regarding the very possibility of authoritative critique of the modern state and its institutions. By contrast, Talal Asad and his students have demonstrated that far from being lost, the authority of tradition continues to live in the modern world in ways that provide possibilities for critiquing modern secular power. In doing so, they challenged the view that critique is necessarily a secular practice, and allowed an appreciation of forms of critique that are not set against tradition and/or religion, but rather internal to them. They further showed that under the conditions set by the modern state, tradition and secular power are not always opposed to each other, but may also inform and constitute one another in important ways.

This workshop seeks to explore the (dis)entanglements of authority as rooted in tradition and the modern state and to investigate the possibilities and limits of authoritative critique they set. Some key questions this workshop revolves around are: How does critique appeal to citizens of a modern state whose practices are rooted in tradition? Is the authoritativeness of an opinion determined by its appeal to concerned subjects? Is the authoritativeness of critique truth-dependent, or is truth irrelevant? How does the modern state’s claim to ultimate authority affect the task of grounding critique? And, what are the limits and possibilities of critique within the framework of the modern state?

The workshop will bring papers that will address these questions anthropologically, historically, and philosophically, in the Muslim tradition and beyond.

The workshop will be open to the public but will require advance registration via eume(at)



Monday, June 22
9.30 - 10 am

10 - 12 am
Session I
Ruth Mas(University of Colorado),
Humeira Iqtidar (King's College, London), ‘Tradition’ in Islamic Political Thought
Karim Sadek (American University of Beirut / EUME Fellow 2014/2015), Islamic Radical Democracy: Three Critical Interventions
Discussant: Hussein Ali Agrama (University of Chicago)

1 - 3 pm
Session II
Schirin Amir-Moazami (Freie Universität Berlin), Can the Muslim Subject Speak? The Secular Body Politics of the Male Circumcision Debate in Germany
Yazan Doughan (University of Chicago / Affiliated EUME Fellow 2014/2015), Speaking to Authority, Speaking with Authority: Political Temporality and the Predicaments of Public Criticism in Jordan's Protest Movement
Nada Moumtaz (Ohio State University / EUME Fellow 2014/2015), In Pursuit of Coherence: Thinking Orthodoxy and Authority in the Islamic Tradition
Discussant: Maeve Cooke (University College Dublin)

3.30 - 5 pm
Round table discussion



Hussein Ali Agrama is Associate Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, has ongoing research interests in the anthropology of law, religion, Islam, and the Middle East; and in secularism, law and colonial power, and the genealogies of sovereignty and emergency states.

Schirin Amir-Moazami holds a PhD from the department of Social and Political Sciences of the European University Institute in Florence and is currently Professor for Islam in Europe at Freie Universität Berlin. Her research interests include Islamic movements in Europe, bodily practices, gender questions, regulations of religious plurality and political theory. Schirin Amir-Moazami is currently working on a book manuscript under the working title Producing the Tolerable. On the Governmentalization of gendered Islam in Germany, in which she looks at micro-political practices triggered by the emergence and proliferation of the ‘Muslim question’ in Germany. The main focus is on the gendered aspects and the question as to how these governmental techniques are geared towards the regulation of bodily practices and religious sensibilities.

Maeve Cooke is Professor of Philosophy at University College Dublin, Ireland and a member of the Royal Irish Academy. Her current research interests are guided by the question of truth in social and political theory; she is also working on conscience-based, democratic dissent. Her principal book publications are Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas’s Pragmatics (MIT Press, 1994) and Re-Presenting the Good Society (MIT Press, 2006). She is editor and translator of Habermas: On the Pragmatics of Communication (MIT Press, 1998) and has published many articles in scholarly journals and books, mainly in the areas of social and political philosophy. She has held visiting appointments at several universities in the USA and Europe and is on the editorial board of a number of scholarly journals.

Yazan Doughan is an anthropologist combining a semiotic approach to the study of culture with an engagement with social and cultural theory. His work brings a semiotic-practice perspective to bear on the study of politics, authority, temporality, urbanism and globalization in the contemporary Middle East. In a general sense, his work investigates how cultural knowledge received from the past (tradition) is made relevant  in addressing concerns and questions posed in the present, and how this is related to notions of progress (modernity), and to perceptions of a unitary world with shared cultural values (globalization). He is completing his PhD in Anthropology at the University of Chicago from which he also holds a M.A. degree in the same discipline. He also holds an M.A. in Critical Media and Cultural Studies from SOAS—University of London, as well as a BSc. in Architecture from the University of Jordan.

Humeira Iqtidar is lecturer in politics at King's College London. Her research is concerned with the relationship between religion, political imagination and political mobilization. She is a co-convenor of the London Comparative Political Theory group and is the principal investigator for the ERC funded project Tolerance in Contemporary Muslim Thought and Practice: Political Theory Beyond the West.

Nada Moumtaz is Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Ohio State University. She received her B.Arch. from the American University of Beirut and her PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2012. Her dissertation research and writing were supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Charlotte Newcombe Foundation. Her work is at the intersection of the Anthropology of Islam, Law, Property and Economy, Ottoman history during the era of reform, and Islamic legal studies. As an architect, she has had a long-standing engagement with urban issues. She has contributed a chapter on the Anthropology of Islam to the Companion to the Anthropology of the Middle East. Her work on the expropriation and exchange of Islamic endowments during the rebuilding of downtown Beirut after the 1975-1990 Civil War will appear in Droit et propriété au Liban: Explorations Empiriques. She recently co-organized the yearly conference of the Graduate Programs in Urban Planning, Policy, and Design at the American University of Beirut, City Debates 2014, entitled, Of Property and Planning.

Karim Sadek received his PhD in Philosophy from Georgetown University in August 2012. Since then, Karim served as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at the American University of Beirut (AUB), a Research Fellow at the Oxford Center of Islamic Studies, and taught Philosophy at AUB and Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey. His research interests fall on the intersection between Critical Theory, democratic theory, and Islamic political thought. As a EUME Fellow Karim will be completing a book manuscript with the title: ‘Arab Spring’”: Authoritarianism or Emancipation? Recognition, Islamic Identity, and Radically Democratic Islamic Politics. In this book Karim conducts an intellectual rapprochement between contemporary Critical Theory and Islamic revivalist movements and political thought to establish the possibility and legitimacy of a radically democratic conception of Islamic politics, and clear the way for developing a characteristically Islamic critical social theory.

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