2014 Conference: Beyond the Islamic Public Sphere in Africa

APRIL 4, 2014 - 9:30AM TO AUGUST 4, 2015 - 5:30AM


During the last two decades, the concept of an “Islamic public sphere” has proven attractive to analysts working in a variety of traditions. It has provided the conceptual framework for projects as diverse as an updated version of modernization theory (in which colonial/postcolonial states and economic transformations gradually facilitate the emergence of such a sphere), the critique of secularism (by showing the compatibility between the public sphere and religiosity), and arguments for multiple “alternate” modernities (by providing a criterion for evaluating the success of alternative paths). At the same time, however, the very concept of a public sphere more generally has come in for increasing critique. The original Habermasian project of accounting for the relationship between public opinion and consumer capitalism seems misdirected in an era of fragmented sovereignty and transnational communities. Feminist critics have long queried the utility of the public/private distinction itself. Not least, the post-socialist rhetoric celebrating insurgent civil societies and their ability to ensure democratization and growth has largely proven hollow. What then should we make of the usefulness of the concept in the study of the Muslim world? What other theories might better describe the phenomena that have captured the attention of recent scholarship? What new frameworks might direct us towards unasked questions and understudied processes? This workshop is intended to explore these questions in the context of Muslim Africa during the last 100+ years. Participants will engage the concept of the public sphere in a critical, forward looking way. Presentations will address a variety of themes, including Salafism, civil society, media and new publics.