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Politics of Piety 2 + Being Good in Ramadan

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Zoe Liew

on 15 May 2014

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Transcript of Politics of Piety 2 + Being Good in Ramadan

Argues that Western feminists view the subaltern women as oppressed individuals and have traditionally endeavored to free them from their bondage.

In her attempt to shake up secular and analytical frameworks about the role of religiosity, Mahmood juxtaposes the practices of the mosque participants, which defy conventional views of agency, with secular-liberal perspectives of agency, body and authority.

Is it possible to separate feminism from its political prescriptive project of freeing the oppressed cultural other/subaltern woman?
Mahmood Schielke

How much of an impact do you think the time difference between Mahmood and Schielke has had, and do you think Schielke should have addressed this?
Anthropology, architecture

Born before Islamic revival
1995-1997: Fieldwork, Cairo
Fieldwork pre-9/11
Fieldwork in Cairo
Focuses on women (feminism)
Participant observation, interviews, visited 6 different mosques, literature review
Philosophy, political science, Islamic studies & anthropology
Born after Islamic revival
2000s-2006: Fieldwork in Egypt
Fieldwork primarily post-9/11
Fieldwork in Nazlat al-Rayyis
Focuses on young men
Participant observation, interviews, literature review
Zoe Liew, Wybren Nooitgedagt, Julia Reijers
Politics of Piety
Content + Discussion Questions
Argues that the young men in the village of Nazlat al-Rayyis face ambiguities and ambivalence in their everyday lives because they have desires and aims that are not in line with Islam, while they are at the same time wishing to be good Muslims. Morally ambivalent Muslims find it hard to hold themselves to standards of piety for long periods.

During the holy month of Ramadan these men are committed to fulfilling God’s commands and temporarily live by the norms. This makes them feel they are allowed to misbehave a little the rest of the year; it legitimizes their vices. The men of Nazlat al-Rayyis expect that they will receive God's forgiveness annually during Ramadan.

The Islamic revival and the Salafi movement have made it more difficult for the young men. While they aim of the Salafi is to abolish ambivalence and impose clarity, their perfectionist nature is problematic and actually increases fragmentation.

Being Good in Ramadan
Content + Discussion Questions
Content + Discussion Questions

They often tell of having experienced a period of intense happiness and satisfaction as active Salafis but then losing the drive (..) and reverting to their old habits. In the following period, they often report a feeling of failure and guilt. (..) Since religion stands totally beyond critique, people can only search for faults in themselves.

Failure - Politics of Piety Part 2, Schielke, Luhrmann etc.
How do the individuals studied by these authors perceive failure or darkness in relation to their expectations of the role of religion and/or God in their lives?

Crying as a means/end - Mahmood-Luhrmann
How do the Cairene pietists and Vineyard congregants perceive the act of crying differently?
How are group members who don't cry during prayer perceived by the Cairene mosque participants and Vineyard congregants?

Agency - Mahmood, Schielke, Johnson - Size Matters, Theroux, Luhrmann, Aupers and Houtman etc.
How would these authors critique Mahmood's claims about agency? Conversely, what would Mahmood say about these authors' arguments on agency?

Coexistence of and tension between religious & secular values - Schielke-Elias, Schielke-Theroux etc.
How are moral and religious fragmentation manifested in Pakistani practices of truck decoration and in the lives of young Egyptian Muslim men during Ramadan and at other times?

How does the coexistence of registers that can and often do conflict with each other affect these respondents' identity formation and agency?

Visibility, intentionality and position of researcher - Mahmood, Schielke, Theroux etc.
How do these authors' visibility, aims and subject positions frame the research subjects?

Repugnant cultural other - Politics of Piety Part 2, Schielke. Harding, Luhrmann etc.
Whom do the groups studied by these authors perceive as the repugnant cultural other?

Associate professor of anthropology at UC, Berkeley

1962: Born in Pakistan
1980s: Degrees in urban planning & architecture. Practiced for 4 years.
1995-1997: Fieldwork, Cairo. PhD from Stanford in anthropology.
2005: Politics of Piety published.

Research fellow at Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin. Teaches Visual and Media Anthropology at Free University of Berlin
In your opinion, which moral subject has more agency?
Both Mahmood and Schielke's respondents blame the cultural and social ethos for the erosion of the will to live piously. Do you think that their inability to resist the influence of their cultural and social environment is a sign of a lack of agency?
Email Schielke:
I think that ambiguity and ambivalence are part of moral reasoning and lives of all people everywhere in the world.
Do you believe this ambivalence is something universal? Or is it something that is solely problematic for religious subjects? Why or why not?

Since the Salafi interpretation of religion insists that there are no interpretations of religion, only plain objective religion on the one side and erroneous deviations on the other, rural young people rarely have access to other interpretations of religion that would allow them to reconcile their ambivalent experience with their religious faith
(Schielke 2009: 37). According to Schielke, even the Salafists who accomplish piety face ambiguity. Do you think Islamic commandments and individual desires are by definition incompatible?
1972: Born in Finland
2000: MA in Islamic Studies, philosophy & political science at University of Bonn, Germany
2001-2005: PhD student at International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, Leiden, NL
2005: PhD in Social Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, NL
2000s-2006: Fieldwork in Egypt
2006 - 2007: Postdoc researcher at the Department of Anthropology and African Studies, University of Mainz, Germany
2009: Being Good in Ramadan published
Mahmood is one-sided; she only provides the success stories.

1. She is trying to generalize a theory for Muslims, while her objects of study are committed religious activists. She is not taking into account the whole spectrum of or other varieties in Islamic religiosity among Egyptians.
2. She doesn't discuss the actual outcomes of the women's attempts to becoming pious. Piety does not proceed along an unilinear path. It's a practice that is related to periods marked by crisis.
3. Her focus on ‘discursive tradition’ makes it seem as if Egyptian Muslims are not open to worldviews and experiences outside of Islam, like romance and consumerism.
n anthropological study of morality and ethical subjectivity has to take the inherent ambivalence as a starting point
(Schielke 2009: 34). Do you agree with Schielke on this statement about the anthropological study of morality? Do you agree with Schielke's critique on Mahmood? Why or why not?
Academia versus accessibility
Politics of Piety
is very theoretical and academic
Being Good in Ramadan
is more accessible, 'every day life'

" (...) providing a bit more context would have made [Politics of Piety] more accessible to me."

Would you say that Schielke was more successful in 'building a bridge' for you personally, even if that was not his stated intention?
Problems with Mahmood's analysis
Egyptian singer Karim Mohsen
Neither of them explicitly/thoroughly explain their research methodologies.
How have your secular assumptions about the role religiosity should play in the creation of a modern subjectivity influenced or structured your reading or analysis of Politics of Piety?
But, considering the aim of Mahmood's book, is Schielke's critique still valid?
What were the respective aims of the authors?
Content + Discussion Questions
Keeping that in mind, which of the two approaches would you say was more successful in building bridges?
For academics and non-academics?
Is it possible to separate feminism from its politically prescriptive project of freeing the oppressed female cultural other/subaltern woman?
The moral subject performs ritual acts habitually to instill Islamic norms in oneself
The moral subject is one who acts appropriately according to the time and the occasion in order to find an acceptable temporary balance between God's commands, social customs and values, personal desires and economic pressures.
Argues that Western feminists have tended to view subaltern women as subjugated individuals who would certainly resist oppressive social and cultural norms if given the opportunity. Thus, such feminists often endeavor to 'free' women whom they perceive to be subordinated within patriarchal structures of power.

In an attempt to shake up secular thought and analytical frameworks for understanding socio-political formations which defy conventional perspectives of agency, Mahmood juxtaposes the mosque participants' practices against secular-liberal understandings of agency, body and authority.

Different conceptualizations of the same norm allows people to perform and inhabit the norm in different ways.

So does Schielke reduce these practices to cultural and social metaphors which is the consequence of using the analytical lens of identity politics as Mahmood argues?
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