9 Dec 2016 - 10 Dec 2016 All day Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge


Registration for the conference is now closed.



Amira Bennison (University of Cambridge)

Simon Wolfgang Fuchs (University of Cambridge)

Helen Pfeifer (University of Cambridge)



The 20th century is often seen as a period of increasing homogenisation within Islam. The attempted codification of Islamic law by various nation states as well as the rise of Salafism are often cited as symptoms of such a streamlining trend. Yet, narratives of ‘puritanical’ forms of Islam spread by Saudi Arabia or ‘revolutionary’ modes of thought exported by Iran do not capture the local dynamics by which Muslim individuals, groups, and societies have always negotiated religious change. Even our age of globalisation witnesses fundamental disagreements about how to live a proper Muslim life, how to implement Islamic law or how to structure society in accordance with religious precepts. Such debates and frictions are only likely to intensify in the light of increasing migration, mobility, and interactions of Muslims from various linguistic and regional backgrounds.

Although modern technologies have made it easier for Muslims to travel and communicate across large distances, the tension between universal aspiration and local practice are not new. Since the early Islamic period, the faithful sought to systematise the religion as it entered regions with wildly varying ethnic, intellectual and spiritual landscapes. In the early modern era, Islamic states and pietistic movements used new means both to differentiate themselves from others and encourage homogeneity within particular groups.


Aim of the Conference

This two-day interdisciplinary conference aims to compare and connect such encounters as they occurred in various spatial and temporal settings since ca. 1250. Bringing together historians, art historians, anthropologists, political scientists, and scholars of comparative literature and Islamic studies who work on Islamic communities all across the globe, our aim is to analyse how Muslim travellers, scholars, state officials and migrant workers made sense of radically different forms of practical piety and religious thought they encountered while being on the move. How did they justify the seemingly incoherent appearance of the Muslim umma? How did they draw boundaries between ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy’? What kinds of tools did the Islamic tradition offer for understanding human diversity? What was the impact of more peripheral settings of the Islamic world, and how did anxieties of Muslims based in the ‘centres’ of political and religious power play out when being confronted with unexpected forms of Islam? To what extent did travel and encounter encourage homogenisation within the Islamic community, and to what extent did it breed polarisation?

By placing such processes within a broader historical perspective, this conference aims to examine the meta-narratives of Islamic history, evaluating the usefulness of concepts like globalisation, modernity and orthodoxy in understanding the diversity and endurance of the Islamic project.




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, the Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge, Christ's College, the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies, the Smuts Fund, the George Macaulay Trevelyan Fund, and the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.


Administrative assistance: events@crassh.cam.ac.uk


Day 1 - Friday 9 December 2016
9.00 - 9.15


9.15 - 9.30

Welcome and Opening Remarks

Helen Pfeifer & Simon Wolfgang Fuchs (University of Cambridge)

9.30 - 11.15

Panel 1: Encounters in the age of Islamic empire

Discussant: Deniz Turker (Harvard University)


Helen Pfeifer (University of Cambridge)

A gentler era? Competitive religiosity in 16th-century Ottoman lands


Zacky Khairul Umam (Free University Berlin)

Thinking Sunni orthodoxy and religious difference in an Ottoman time

Arthur Dudney (University of Cambridge)

Mughal literary scholarship and the South Asian local

11.15 - 11.45


11.45 - 13.00

Panel 2: Potentials and perils of modernity

Discussant: Amira Bennison (University of Cambridge)


Hilary Kalmbach (University of Sussex)

Islam, modernity, and the occult: Spiritualism in Egypt at the turn of the 20th century


Diliara Brileva (Kazan Federal University)

Periodical press of the Muslim Tatars of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century as a meeting place for different ‘Islams’

13.00 - 14.00


14.00 - 15.15

Panel 3: Islamic reform and revival

Discussant: Mezna Qato (University of Cambridge)


Rainer Brunner (CNRS, Paris)

Between Islamic reformism and sectarian polemics: Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā on Shiism and other non-Sunnite Muslims

Robert Gleave (University of Exeter)

Salafi and Shi‘i approaches to ‘heretical’ local practices

15.15 - 15.45


15.45 - 17.00

Panel 4: Living universal Islam

Discussant: David Motadel (London School of Economics)


Felicitas Becker (Ghent University)

Universal history, fallibility, and the challenges of living with diversity in East Africa

Robert Crews (Stanford University)

A Minority Faith at Home and Abroad: The Afghan Shia and the Globe

Day 2 - Saturday 10 December
9.00 - 10.45

Panel 5: Islam on the move

Discussant: Hira Amin (University of Cambridge)


Iza Hussin (University of Cambridge)

Sharia itineraries

Kashshaf Ghani (Nalanda University)

United in faith, divided in practice: South Asian Muslims and their world(s) of Islam

Manja Stephan-Emmrich (Humboldt University)

‘I am Muslim, I am Tajik’: Cosmopolitanism, multiple belonging, and ‘homing desire'

10.45 - 11.15


11.15 - 12.30

Panel 6: Diversity and unity of Islam in texts

Discussant: Christian Sahner (University of Cambridge)


Ali Altaf Mian (Seattle University)

Genre matters: Sameness and difference in Sunni traditionalism

Ronit Ricci (Hebrew University)

Storied encounters: Reading the Ramayana in Muslim Southeast Asia

12.30 - 13.30


13.30 - 14.45

Panel 7: The Islamist Challenge

Discussant: Nick Evans (University of Cambridge)


Mohammed El-Sayed Bushra (Georgetown University)

Dissection of a digital debate with Dāʿish: Muḥammad al-Masʿarī vs. Turkī al-Binʿalī on tawḥīd, shirk, and ʿibādah


Paul Anderson (University of Cambridge) & Magnus Marsden (University of Sussex)

Dealing with Daesh: How Syrian merchants negotiate identity and difference in extraordinary times

14.45 - 15.15


15.15 - 15.55

Panel 8: Arguing Ecumenism

Discussant: Caroline Tee (University of Cambridge)


Augustin Jomier (Inalco, Paris)

Failure of ecumenism: Sunni-Ibadi relationships in colonial Algeria

15.55 - 16.30

Concluding Remarks

Upcoming Events


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk