Islam in the New Middle East: Traditions, Transitions, and Trajectories

March 29-30, 2012
A Two-Day Joint Academic Conference between University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
and the University of Toledo

University of Michigan sponsors include the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies and Islamic Studies Program and from The University of Toledo the Department of Philosophy and the Center for Religious Studies.


The conference will comprise over a dozen academic presentations by a range of leading specialists as well as emerging young scholars to address this timely theme. Each paper will be based on original academic research that combines current analysis of the revolutionary uprisings in the Middle East and couches them, where relevant, in the long-standing scholarly conversations on the region. The papers presented at the conference will be considered for publication in a volume to be co-edited by Drs. Ovamir Anjum and Abbas Barzegar.

Conference Theme: Despite the incoherent array of excitement, optimism, and circumspection that public commentators, policy makers, and academic onlookers have met the Arab Spring, even at its earliest moments, the question of Islam took center stage and has consistently remained a topic of speculation. Most forms of the public conversation rely upon an outmoded and inapplicable dichotomy between secularism and Islamism, where the central concern becomes the motives and machinations of “Islamist” political parties. Will Egypt follow the Iranian model? What will become of women’s rights in Tunisia? Is Turkey the example for the Muslim Brotherhood? While these questions are not entirely unwarranted, they do not begin to approach the complexity of the role of Islamic tradition in the changing Middle East where Islam’s presence is a fait accompli. This conference challenges the current debate on Islam in the Arab Spring by bringing together scholars whose areas of expertise not only offer a nuanced understanding of the geopolitics of the region, but also provide rigorous conceptual and theoretical insight into the social processes that are set to shape the emerging social and political culture in the Middle East.

Participants are encouraged to identify social and political practices, cultural and governmental institutions, and other cultural formations through which Islam—as a discursive tradition—both influences and is influenced by the contemporary moment. Central to this collaborative investigation is the role of the state as the ultimate arbiter of power and simultaneously the contested object of political reform even as its remains the central platform for the performance of democratic procedure. Questions to be explored include, but are not limited to:

  • Have the revolutionary social conditions—with their attendant creative politics—in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya yielded identifiable changes in the popular development and reception of Islamic discourses in the public sphere?
  • If, as commentators have been arguing now for years that, the Muslim world has entered a post-Islamist phase, then what is to explain the continuing viability of political Islamic discourse as seen through electoral gains? And how can we adequately account for its transformation yet incessant recourse to tradition?    
  •  As groups such as Ennahda in Tunisia having come to power and the Muslim Brothers in Egypt may follow suit, do they incorporate the experiences of Islamic governing projects as seen in Iran, Turkey, and elsewhere? Does this signal the normalization of Islamic governance in the region?
  • What is the effect of late capitalism and liberal economic policy—which most countries are the Middle East are readily adopting—on the Islamic discourse of social, political, and cultural change as proposed by advocates of political Islam?
  • In countries like Egypt, Syria and Bahrain where confessional and sectarian boundaries intersect with national identity, how has the prominence of nationalist rhetoric both limited and enabled Islamic communitarian and sectarian sensibilities?

Through broad publicity and timely publication of its proceedings, the Islam in the New Middle East conference hopes to shape the contemporary conversation on Islam both within the academy and in public discourse towards a more complex level of engagement. 

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Keynote Addresses

"Islamist Movements in Post-Revolutionary Egypt"

Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University

March 29, 2012, 5:30 PM,
Hussey Room, The Michigan League,
911 N. University

"Arab Spring to Arab Transitions"

Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History,
The University of Michigan

March 30, 2012, 7:00 - 9:00 PM, Driscoll Auditorium,
2801 Bancroft, University of Toledo


Subpages (1): Conference Participants