Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2015

Charles Hirschkind

Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

Reflections from Granada on the Place of Islam in Europe

In this talk, I want to explore practices of historical reflection grounded in the city of Granada’s Moorish architectural heritage. From the publication of Washington Irving’s Tales of Alhambra, in 1823, up through today, Granada has been a highly celebrated destination for travelers and tourists, drawn by the sublimity of its romantic oriental splendor. Yet, although the city is well known for the orientalist fantasy it puts on display for touristic consumption, here I want to consider forms of reflection that cannot be encompassed within the protocols of discourse and experience mobilized by the tourist industry, and that indeed, may challenge those protocols and the assumptions about history and geography they entail. Specifically, drawing on the works of writers, thinkers, and poets from the mid-19th century to the present, I trace a tradition of reflection that engages the city’s unique history and architectural configuration as the basis from which to reassess Spain’s relation to Islam, North Africa, and the Middle East. I conclude the talk with some general observations on the way the material infrastructure of Moorish Spain mediates and conditions the possibilities of finding a place for Islam in the country today.

Charles Hirschkind is associate professor of anthropology and director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests concern religious practice, media technologies, and emergent forms of political community in the urban Middle East and Europe. He has published two books, The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (Columbia 2006) and Powers of the Secular Modern: Talal Asad an his Interlocutors (co-edited with David Scott, Stanford 2005). Other recent publications include “Experiments in Devotion Online: The YouTube Khutba” (International Journal of Middle East Studies 2012), and “Beyond Secular and Religious: An Intellectual Genealogy of Tahrir Square” (American Ethnologist 2012). His current project is based in southern Spain and explores some of the different ways in which Europe’s Islamic past inhabits its present, unsettling contemporary efforts to secure Europe’s Christian civilizational identity.