Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2019

The Primacy of Form

Brown University, Friday, October 25 - Saturday, October 26, 2019

This exploratory conference proposes that the vast diversity of ideas and practices associated with Islam deserve investigation through presuming continuities and divergences between forms. In the prevailing contours of Islamic studies as an academic field, pride of place is given to genealogies of ideas, theological precepts, and practices. What if we stand apart from problems of coherence and incoherence of ideas, or the effort to seek logics of practice?

What can be said to support, or contest, the notion that forms articulate Islam? How might we address forms, for example those embodied in structures and genres, with due attention to historicity and without presuming Islamic universals? Forms do not bind to permanent ideological investments, allowing us to explain Islam’s sociohistorical unboundedness. Forms that predate the mention of Islam become Islamic through particular historical processes. Forms identified with Islam can shed their Islamicness and acquire new coordinates in other contexts. Such transitions explicate the significance, yet permeability, of all boundaries, challenging Islam’s exceptionality. In the longue durée, forms can explain diachronic continuities. When observed turning into vessels for new ideas, forms index processes of change and transformation. Identified as literary genres and bureaucratic procedures, forms signify processes of authorization and exclusion.

This conference is sponsored by Islam and the Humanities at Brown, a project aimed at forging deliberate connections between the study of Islam and Muslims and topics engaged by scholars in the humanities in general. Through collective effort, the event hopes to stimulate new thinking on Islamic forms while, simultaneously, suggesting that Islam is an exceptionally good venue to query the very concept of form.