Sunday, December 12, 2010


Here is an excerpt from the Review's third issue: introduction on "nationalism, revolution and military government"



Here is an excerpt from the Review's first issue: introduction and Asad's article "Anthropological texts and ideological problems: an analysis of Cohen on Arab villages in Israel"

For a number of years some of those who write and teach about the Middle East, both in this country and abroad, have become increasingly dissatisfied with the state of Middle East studies. This is not only a reflection of concern at the politically-motivated bias which can be found in much work on the subject, but also at its profound methodological limitations so often characterised by a combination of naive commonsense and vacuous theorising. Inappropriate concepts are regularly applied; a great deal of writing is simply irrelevant.

In contrast to this, our aim is to encourage the production of theoretically relevant work informed by a critical appreciation of the Middle East and its history. We have created no organisation or group to do this and hope that others will join us in helping to develop more rewarding analyses. Our aim i s not to make this journal a forum for a single, explicit political or theoretical position but rather to see it develop as the expression of a general tendency of thought.

All but one of the papers printed here were originally written for a seminar held at Hull University in September 1974. They are offered simply as the beginning of a series of critiques which we hope will eventually include most of the important and influential works within modern Middle Eastern studies. There has been no imposition of editorial opinion. The individual authors take individual responsibility for their work.

It is hoped to produce a similar collection of critiques at least once a year, as well as to publish an Arabic translation. Further seminars may also be held from time to time.

Talal Asad
Roger Owen

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Asad's CONFERENCE interview (1994)

published in Conference: A Journal of Philosophy and Theory, vol.5, no.1, Spring 1994

With an introductory essay by Ali Nematollahy, entitled ''Conference Exchange: Religions and Politics''


'Kinship' published in "Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an"

"Kinship" in Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an vol.3, ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Brill 2003


Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Islam, Human Rights, and the Secular: A Conversation" Talal Asad and Abdullahi An-Na'im

Georgetown Uni., Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Talal Asad and Abdullahi An-Na'im
"Islam, Human Rights, and the Secular: A Conversation"

Listen the Talk

Can one ground universal human rights in the Islamic tradition? How do secular notions of human rights -- and those derived from other religious traditions -- compare with Islamic perspectives? Does the secular and democratic state pose a threat to Islam? Or might it in fact provide the best possible guarantee of the rights of Muslim citizens?.

'Thinking About Religious Beliefs and Politics' by Talal Asad

Thinking About Religious Beliefs and Politics, a paper by Talal Asad

to appear in Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies edited by Robert Orsi

DOWNLOAD ''Thinking About Religious Belief and Politics''

found at ''A Colloquium on the Origin of Human Rights with Talal Asad'' at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, February 2, 2010 website 

Talal Asad on the History of the Idea of Humanity

Talal Asad's speech given at Berkeley Center

Berkley Center Event: Reflections on the Origins of Human Rights, featuring Talal Asad (9/28/09)

Event Webpage:

The enormous academic interest in human rights is reflected in several excellent histories. Although there has been some disagreement over the origins of human rights, most scholars acknowledge their modern European provenance. In his talk, Talal Asad took it for granted that their origins do not make human rights inappropriate to non-European cultures. Through a discussion of two recent contributions -- John Headley's The Europeanization of the World; On the Origins of Human Rights and Democracy, and Lynn Hunt's Inventing Human Rights-- he explored two concepts generally regarded as central to human rights: "humanity" and "sympathy. This event was co-sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.



Talal Asad's Blurbs

Praise for Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things by Ann Laura Stoler (Duke UP, 1995)

"Race and the Education of Desire is a tour de force. Stoler has engaged in a productive dialogue with Foucault’s seminal text, and interwoven that dialogue with an illuminating analysis of the concepts and policies of imperial racism. This book should have a major impact on scholarly discussions of modern imperialism and racism." [JHU]


Praise for Egypt: The Moment of Change, edited by Rabab El-Mahdi and Philip Marfleet (Zed Books, 2009)

'Egypt is often referred to in the Western media as "a moderate Arab state" solely on the grounds of its friendly relations with the United States and Israel. But there is nothing moderate about its poverty, corruption, and political repression, as this book so ably demonstrates. Egypt: The Moment of Change is a valuable contribution to understanding the uncertain predicament of this important country.' [CUNY]


Praise for A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion edited by Michael Lambek (Blackwell, 2002)

"This is an excellent collection, with a comprehensive range of readings from classical as well as recent authors, and very useful introductions to each section that are also accessibly written. In my view this fine Reader should be adopted as a standard text for teaching the anthropology of religion." [CUNY]


Praise for Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society by Nadia Abu El-Haj (Chicago UP, 2002)

"A fascinating and importnat study. Factually detailed and theoretically informed by the latest thinking in the anthropology and sociology of science, Nadia Abu El-Haj provided us with an understanding of precisely how archeology has contributed so crucially to the formation of nationalist sensibilities in a settler-colonial society." [CUNY]


Praise for Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire by Wendy Brown (Princeton UP, 2008)

''This is a brilliant book. Wendy Brown has made the reader understand 'tolerance' in a new and more provocative way. Alerting us to its genealogy, she demonstrates the ambiguity of any politics that seeks to found itself on this much-touted liberal virtue. Regulating Aversion is a remarkable--and remarkably rigorous--contribution to the considerable literature on tolerance and the limits of the tolerable. Anyone wanting to think seriously about multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and democratic pluralism in our time must read it.'' [CUNY]


Praise for Islamic Liberation Theology: Resisting the Empire by Hamid Dabashi (Routledge, 2008) 

''This is a wide-ranging and trenchant critique of the ideological thinking behind American imperialism in the Middle East. But beyond that, it makes the intriguing argument that the world has already entered a phase of revolutionary resistance transcending the old ‘Islam vs. the West’ cliché. Anyone interested in the current debates about the future of America’s global hegemony will profit from reading this original and passionately written book.'' [CUNY]


Praise for Desiring Arabs by Joseph A. Massad (Chicago UP, 2007)

“This is a remarkable book, at once a fascinating history of ideas and a brilliantly analyzed case study of cultural imperialism. There are many excellent studies of Western representations of Arab and Muslim peoples, but there is nothing comparable on the way the latter have responded to the former. With impressive learning and sharp wit Massad describes the internalization of European conceptions of the human among Arab intellectuals, both nationalist and Islamist, since the nineteenth century. His account of their concern to re-orient sexual and civilizational desires (both being closely intertwined in the European imagination) is quite stunning. Anyone interested in the modernization of Middle Eastern culture cannot afford to miss this book—nor, for that matter can scholars seriously engaged in postcolonial research or in lesbian and gay studies.” [CUNY]


Praise for Semites: Race, Religion, Literature by Gil Anidjar (Stanford UP, 2007)

“In this fascinating collection of essays, Gil Anidjar traces the Western conception of the outsider, the enemy, through the once-familiar notion of the Semite. He invites his readers to ponder the remarkable fact that although the category of ‘Semite’ is now scarcely used in its original sense (Arabs and Jews as Europe’s joint Other), its negative, ‘anti-Semite’ (meaning anti-Jews), is very much alive in religious and political discourses in Euro-America. Anidjar is a master of Derridean deconstruction, a provocative analyst of the role of Western Christianity in the formation of contemporary hostilities. This elegant book will upset many complacencies.”

Praise for The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God by Stanley Hauerwas (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007)

‘‘This book by an eminent Christian theologian is provocative for think- ing fruitfully about our troubled times. Hauerwas has a subtle, learned, and compassionate mind, which he brings to bear on the secular state in which we live and on the secular knowledge produced in our universities to serve it. Non-Christians like myself will find reading this book a mind-widening experience.’’


Praise for The Great Social Laboratory: Subjects of Knowledge in Colonial and Postcolonial Egypt by Omnia El Shakry (Stanford UP, 2007)

“This excellent and well-researched book recounts the formation and application of colonial knowledge—especially of ethnography, human geography, and demography—in the attempts to modernize and govern Egypt. It makes a significant contribution to the important debate about colonial modernity that has so far been largely confined to India.”


Praise for The Crisis of Secularism in India edited by A.D. Needham and R.S. Rajan (DUKE UP, 2006)

“Indian public debates on the question of secularism have been among the most thought-provoking in the contemporary world. This rich collection of essays by Indian intellectuals (including historians, political scientists, and philosophers) reflects the sophisticated character of many of the arguments being deployed. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has been seriously thinking about this problem.”


Praise for Islam in Europe: The Lure of Fundamentalism and the Allure of Cosmopolitanism by Nilüfer Göle (Markus Wiener 2011)

''Nilüfer Göle is a leading sociologist who is as familiar with France as she is with Turkey, and therefore with the sensibilities of their respective citizens. In this book, the fruit of many years reading and observation, she traces the civilizational challenges posed by the contemporary encounter between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe. A central question that she asks is whether Europe is an identity or a project, and it is clear that she hopes it is first and foremost the latter. Written with rare insight and generosity of spirit, Göle's book offers readers a meditation on one way in which people from very different traditions can live together without animus in an interconnected modern world.''


Praise for Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain by Peter van der Veer (Princeton UP, 2001)

"This is a splendid book. Peter van der Veer has drawn on a wide range of fascinating readings to elaborate the post-colonial thesis that the modern histories of Britain and India have been mutually constitutive. I believe he is absolutely right in insisting on the fact--and demonstrating it so ably--that modern ideas like nation, religion, and race must be understood, if they are to be understood fully, through an interactional approach. Anyone interested in recent thinking about the joint history of colonialism and modernity should not miss this work."

On the Afghanistan War

On the Afghanistan War by Talal Asad  

  Download ''On the Afghanistan War''

found at ''A Colloquium on the Origin of Human Rights with Talal Asad'' at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, February 2, 2010 website

Asad on Charles Taylor

SSRC Salutes Charles Taylor

Talal Asad

Distinguished professor of anthropology, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center

When did you first meet Charles Taylor, and what were your impressions of the man and his work?
I first met Charles Taylor when I was a student at Oxford and I attended a seminar he directed at All Souls College (where he was a fellow) on the philosophy of the social sciences. This was either in 1959-60 or 1960-61 -- I can't recall for sure, but it was before he had received his doctorate. This was for me a landmark: Taylor's seminar helped me to overcome my infatuation with positivism. I'm sure he doesn't remember me being there at the time. In any case, I was very shy and said very little. But I was struck then by his enormously subtle and wide-ranging mind, and very happy to find that he counted himself a man of the Left. Together with a number of other brilliant young scholars, he was associated with (perhaps he was an editor of, I'm not sure) the Universities and Left Review, a journal that many of us of similar leanings read eagerly. It was at once highly sophisticated and politically committed (it later dissolved into the New Left Review, which was a more pedantic organ, at least in its early years). Since those Oxford days, I tried to read as much of Taylor's work as possible, learning, without surprise, that he has become one of the most important academics of the English-speaking world.

Which are your favorite works of his and how have they informed your thinking?
The writings that I've read -- from Sources of the Self to the debate on multiculturalism to the more recent works on religion and secularism -- all contain valuable insights and deal suggestively with the most important questions of our time. They have certainly prompted me to think more carefully about these questions.

Looking at Taylor's oeuvre, what is the most impressive feature?
If I had to sum up the features of Taylor's work that have most impressed me over time I would say they are (1) the ease with which he carries his enormous learning and (2) his unusual intellectual generosity. By "intellectual generosity," I mean his striking lack of ego in dealing with the work of others and his ability to take seriously and treat challengingly the ideas of those he clearly thinks are profoundly mistaken.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Geertz's Response to Asad's Critique (1983)

From Arun Micheelsen's interview with Geertz

I Don't Do Systems”: An Interview with Clifford Geertz
Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 14/1 (2002): 2-20

Micheelsen: If we look at the critique you have encountered, then reservations against interpretive anthropology as a program have been raised by Paul Shankman (Shankman 1984), because of the general particularity of interpretive anthropology, its concept of "Cultural analysis [as] intrinsically incomplete" (Geertz 1993: 29), and with the practical method of "guessing at meaning, assessing the guesses, and drawing explanatory conclusions from the better guesses " (Geertz 1993: 20). Furthermore, Talal Asad has focused on the construction of meaning and power from a historical and institutional perspective, which is a subject he feels you fail to attend to in your work (Asad 1983). How do you respond to this?

Geertz: Well, I do not agree with their critique. If I did, I would change what I am doing. Shankman has a very superficial understanding of what interpretation is. He talks about Wilhelm Dilthey, but he does not really know what went on in that tradition. When Shankman gave his critique, Dilthey was not translated into English, and I doubt that he has read him in German. Therefore, I must admit that I have not given much attention to his critique. Asad is a more significant figure, and here I think there is a real disagreement. I think I have used a historical constitutional framework in my work, which he says I have not. To be honest, I think he is a power-reductionist. He thinks that it is power that really matters and not belief. His notion of definition and his following critique just ignores what I was doing (Asad 1993: 29). I suspect Asad is a Marxist who cannot be material-reductionist anymore, so instead he is a power-reductionist.

Micheelsen: Do you, in opposition to Asad, view meaning as being before power?

Geertz: No. I just do not think that power has any independent existence outside of a cultural or historical context. Moreover, I think there is a tendency nowadays to view human phenomena as a power struggle. From that perspective, any kind of meaning is a cover for a power struggle. Nevertheless, to say that meaning is before power would make me a meaning realist and idealist, which I am not. I just do not think that all significance comes down to the distribution of power.