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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/rw5z-1128


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

The Social Lives of the Quran & the Anthropology of Scriptures


race and racism



Scriptures are not simply texts people read reverentially (or not) as truth, but texts that seem to read readers back; the anthropology of scriptures aims to map the cultural processes by which a cultural master text operates as a node of power. Scriptures are imperatives to bear witness, to take action. How do anthropologists write about such texts and their publics in light of our discipline’s imperatives that we bear witness, take action, and be held accountable to the truths we write, circulate and consume. This roundtable brings together anthropologists who consider the social life of the Quran in Arjun Appadurai's sense in Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, Senegal and the US with religious studies scholars who work on religion and scripturalism in the US and who are arguing for a more expansive anthropology of scriptures, one that considers the the Quran, Bible, and a text such Alex Haley's Roots as examples of Black American scriptures. In the context of the global War on Terror, there are many instances in which the Quran has been at the center of legal and state-sanctioned "religious-reform" programs, ‘Third World’ development campaigns, and cultural diplomatic efforts. Arguments advanced in support of security and “tolerance” (Wendy Brown demonstrates the political promiscuity of the term) by state officials divide Muslims into what Mahmood Mamdani terms the good Muslim and the bad Muslim, linking terrorism not to all of Islam but only to those literalist strains originating in Saudi Arabia that have been exported throughout the world. Wahhabi Islam is often described as “fundamentalist Islam” or “Puritanical Islam” in the mainstream press despite the fact the movement has little in common with American Puritans. Such claims have their genesis in debates about the Bible and Christian fundamentalism and in Orientalist accounts of Muslims’ “mechanical” and “irrational” recitation and memorization of the Quran. The view that literal readings of the Quran are the cause and explanation for terrorism has shaped policies that have profoundly impacted Muslim populations around the world, tracked by the ethnographers presenting here. Beyond state efforts to police the uses and interpretations of the scripture, the Quran pervades global popular cultures, apprehended as a high art object or as meme fodder, as a pedagogical source or a banned book, a sacred relic and museum object or a target for racist abuse in which the text-object “stands in” for actual Muslim bodies. This roundtable asks anthropologists to think through their own stakes in their writing about the social lives of scriptures. To whom are we giving evidence and toward what ends? For whom are we writing? To whom are we accountable, and in what ways, whether or not we share a scripture or a disciplinary canon?


Transcript English (automatic)

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