Mahmood, Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report

Mahmood, Saba. 2016. Religious difference in a secular age: a minority report. Princeton, New Jersey : Princeton University Press. 

Publisher’s Description: The plight of religious minorities in the Middle East is often attributed to the failure of secularism to take root in the region. Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges this assessment by examining four cornerstones of secularism—political and civil equality, minority rights, religious freedom, and the legal separation of private and public domains.

Drawing on her extensive fieldwork in Egypt with Coptic Orthodox Christians and Bahais—religious minorities in a predominantly Muslim country—Saba Mahmood shows how modern secular governance has exacerbated religious tensions and inequalities rather than reduced them. Tracing the historical career of secular legal concepts in the colonial and postcolonial Middle East, she explores how contradictions at the very heart of political secularism have aggravated and amplified existing forms of Islamic hierarchy, bringing minority relations in Egypt to a new historical impasse. Through a close examination of Egyptian court cases and constitutional debates about minority rights, conflicts around family law, and controversies over freedom of expression, Mahmood invites us to reflect on the entwined histories of secularism in the Middle East and Europe.

A provocative work of scholarship, Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges us to rethink the promise and limits of the secular ideal of religious equality.

Bandak, “Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus”

Bandak, Andreas. 2014. Of Refrains and Rhythms in Contemporary Damascus: Urban Space and Christian-Muslim Coexistence. Current Anthropology DOI: 10.1086/678409

Abstract: Christians in the Middle East have traditionally clustered around cities. As minorities in a Muslim majority context, difference manifests itself in many ways. In recent decades, the sounds of the city, in the form of calls to prayer from minarets and church bells, have increased, while green and blue lighting likewise crafts a plural setting that is not only audible but visible to all. In this article, I explore Christian ways of inhabiting the city in Damascus, Syria. The orchestration of space is intensifying as the region appears to be becoming an ever more vulnerable place to live for a Christian minority. I argue that an anthropological engagement with Christianity may do well to listen to the particular refrains that are formed in and of the city. Such an engagement attests to the ways in which Christianity is lived in particular locations but also how Christianity is continuously made to matter.

Bandak, “Making ‘Sound’ Analysis: From Raw Moments to Attuned Perspectives”

Bandak, Andreas. 2014. “Making ‘Sound’ Analysis: From Raw Moments to Attuned Perspectives.” In Qualitative analysis in the making, edited by Daniella Kuzmanovic and Andreas Bandak, 176-191. New York: Routledge.

Excerpt: “Suddenly, I am unable to hear my own thoughts, far less the words of my interlocutor, as I sit at my usual Internet café, High Point, in Damascus. A deafening sound from the nearby Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Kanisat Marimiyya, makes it nigh impossible to continue the conversation for several minutes. The sound is coming from the Church orchestra, consisting of vari- ous brass instruments and drums. Trumpets, cornets, trombones, and tubas mix with the sound of snare drums and bass drums. “Da daa daaa, da dada da daaa . . .” the brass instruments go, accompanied by the snare drums: “Tikiti tikiti tik, tikiti tikiti tik . . .” and the bass drums: “Dum dum duum, dum dum duum . . .” People from the Internet café leave their seats to look out onto Yohanna al-Dimashqi Alley, where the orchestra—assisted by uni- formed scouts—is marching by. The orchestra and the young girls and boys walk with rehearsed dignity down the narrow alley as the music resounds in all directions. The Syrian national flag is carried in front, followed by pennants from the Greek Orthodox Church. People smile and rejoice in the celebrations on this Christian feast day. Having been carried away for some minutes, we resume our conversation. I had been telling my friend and col- league about the intricacies of my fieldwork on Christians in Damascus and their perceptions of Christian-Muslim relations. Much to my frustration, I had been telling my interlocutor, I found a lack of consistency in responses, not just from different people, but from the very same ones, which was trou- bling my understanding of matters and, concomitantly, impeding my analy- sis. Someone would one minute recount how relations were, if not cordial, then based on a civilian understanding of being Syrian first and foremost, not Christian, and Syria was a country with room for all regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation. The next moment he would, as we passed by a mosque in a Christian neighborhood, point to it and simply state that it was out of place in the area. And later again, the very same person would point to mosques and churches neighboring each other as signs of an historical co-existence that was possible and even desirable. How could one account for such seeming inconsistencies, I had asked my interlocutor? At long last, now that we could hear each other again, we both immediately returned to an old discussion we had had on the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and, more precisely, their concept of the ‘refrain’ and sonorities in landscapes, and suddenly the material seemed to speak on an altogether different level.

I shall here treat this moment as a significant point of departure for the analysis; it was what Deleuze and Guattari have designated as a ‘raw moment’ ([1980] 2004: 355) in terms of it being the critical point in my analytical labor, where a conceptual take renders another perspective possible from which the analysis can be made. In this chapter, I shall delve into the making of analysis where sound is allocated a much more critical and formative role both in terms of material and analysis. My argument is that ‘sound’ analysis rests on a critical engagement with the material at hand, but also a willingness to lis- ten to stories other than the standard ones, to trace the noise—which Michel Serres so eloquently captures in the epithet—and connect otherwise disparate areas of thought and practice. As argued by Steven Feld, sound in the social sciences and, more particularly, in the discipline of anthropology has often been relegated to mere material to be dealt with in writing, and sound has fur- thermore often been reduced to the words uttered and collected in interviews (Feld and Brenneis 2004: 471; see also Erlmann 2004). Here, my thinking about Christian Syrians was pushed by the massive noise produced by the orchestra marching by, forcing itself on me as the point from where I should start listening. This was, however, something quite different in practice. As Paolo Apolito has pointed out (1998), there is a difference between the work and thoughts possible in the field and the subsequent work with the material away from the field, and—I would add—the work on an analysis previously made, as is the case here. Past necessities can be sundered, dissolved, and reflected upon and the black box of the making of analysis approached. I shall here analyze how this analysis became both possible and preferable, what kind of connections were established, and, by extension, point to the potential for the ‘sound’ analysis to resound across domains ….”

Heo, Angie. (2012). “The Virgin Made Visible: Intercessory Images of Church Territory in Egypt”

Heo, Angie. (2012). The Virgin Made Visible: Intercessory Images of Church Territory in Egypt. Comparative Studies in Society and History 54(2):361-391.

First Paragraph

In the dark midnight hours of 11 December 2009, the Virgin Mary (al-‘adhra) burst into visibility against the skyline of al-Warraq, a working-class district on the neglected peripheries of Giza, Egypt. Hovering within a glowing triad of crosses, the apparition attracted spectators to the Church of the Virgin and the Archangel Michael along the main thoroughfare, Nile Street, even in the inconvenient hours between dusk and dawn. Within days, the Virgin was being discussed far and wide by Christians and Muslims, Egyptians and foreigners, skeptics and believers. Reactions were diverse: A journalist announced to his friends, “Even if the Virgin appeared before my very eyes, I would deny her.” A cab driver explained, “It is a trick, a big laser show in the sky.” A young mother urged, “Why [forbid oneself] the joy that the Virgin brings?”

Shenoda, “Public Christianity in a Revolutionary Egypt”

Shenoda, Anthony (2012) “Public Christianity in a Revolutionary Egypt” Hot Spots: Revolution and Counter-Revoltuion in Egypt. Cultural Anthropology. 4 February 2012.

first paragraph:

Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt make up roughly 10% of the Egyptian population. This brief essay concerns the ways in which they publicly confess their Christianity, the potential hazards of such confessions, and what I think such confessions communicate, and to whom. I focus on the Maspero Massacre, of October 9, 2011, when mostly Coptic protestors in front of the Maspero state television building in Cairo were mowed down by army Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and bullets. Twenty-eight civilians were killed that day.