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.

We invite papers that reflect on the topic of forms from any perspective, pertaining to all time periods and geographical areas. Topics may be archival, conceptual, or comparative, addressing structure, anti-structure, and everything in between. Examples include, but are not limited to, arenas such as embodiment (dress, ritual, gender, etc.), discourse (names, hadith, tabaqat, qasida, ghazal, love tale, epics, etc.), philosophy and law (fatwa, syllogism, dialectic, guidebook, defters, identity papers, visas and passports, etc.), and art and architecture (visual design, album, muqarnas, minaret, repetition, graffiti, musical maqams and ragas, etc.). In selecting papers, we will give priority to conceptual innovation tied to exploration of specific questions and materials. 

Practical Information:
Colleagues are requested to submit a 250-word proposal using the web form by January 30, 2019. We will not read beyond 250 words when evaluating proposals. Selected authors will be informed by March 30, 2019. Participants will be asked to submit drafts of their papers two weeks before the conference.

We will cover the cost of transportation to Providence, Rhode Island, and a stay of up to three nights.

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.