Writing Retreat in Vienna, 14th – 20th March, 2018

All four postdoctoral fellows of the USPPIP project attended the mid-term conference of HERA, held in Vienna. The conference evaluated the developments in individual projects thus far and suggested guidelines to increase the impact for the ongoing researches.

In the following days, we sat together to discuss a collaborative project and we all zoomed into the idea of writing a book together on the uses of the past in the contemporary Sharia discourses. Consequently, we​ talked about the overall frame and focus of the book, along with its central questions and arguments.

It was a very challenging but exciting exercise to find common threads and themes between our individual researches on violence, gender, custom and governance. The intensive discussions with the historical beauty of Vienna in the background proved to be quite refreshing. We explored different nuances and lacunae through more and more conversations. The spacious and vibrant cafes of Vienna provided a quite friendly and warm ambience for work and we carried out many of our discussions in such cafes, along with restaurants, trams, and buses. I very much enjoyed our continuous conversations outside ​the ​usual academic platforms.

The book we have in mind will be unique for its rarest combinations of sources, disciplines, areas, themes of Islamic law together with its fusion of four authors’ ideas and words in each and every ​sentence.

Eirik Hovden, who had lived in Vienna for four years as a fellow at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, took us through several parts of the city. Through his guidance we could immediately feel at home in this spectacular city. Apart from numerous fascinating monuments, we also visited the magnificent State Hall (Prunksaal) of the National Library of Austria and the Weltmuseum Wien, two most vivid spots of the Austrian imperial extravaganzas of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The city as such is an open visual treat for visitors and there is something or the other that always surprises you from small roadside attractions to monumental churches.

I am very happy that we could start working on this book in such a beautiful atmosphere at the bank of the Danube River where the past of Habsburgs, Ottomans, Communists, Nazis, Soviets, Americans, French and British flows through the veins of its presence in different forms and levels of everyday life.

HERA mid-term conference 14-15th March, Vienna

The four post-docs of Exeter, Leiden, Göttingen and Bergen teams attended the HERA mid-term conference in Vienna on March 14th and 15th. The event provided a great chance for members of the US-PPIP project to engage in intellectual discussion and to share their experience with members of other “Uses of the Past” projects. On the first day, the US-PIPP team joined the discussion on “Changing uses of (different) pasts”, reasoning around the following questions: how is historical knowledge created, defined and validated? What constitutes “‘misuse” of the past? What are the dynamics and consequences of competing narratives of the past? The team actively contributed to the discussion by presenting a position statement on the topic and commenting on others’ statements.  

On March 15th, we had the chance to attend two practical workshops to explore strategies of knowledge exchange with non-academic partners and communication with policy makers. The event was a great opportunity for the US-PPIP post-docs also to expand academic networks and to start a meaningful discussion on “Uses of the Past” with other teams. In particular, we engaged in an interesting intellectual exchange and established contacts with members of the HERILIGION project.

Postdoctural Sandpit 1st – 2nd June 2017, Leiden

On June 1, we the postdoctoral fellows of USPPIP project gathered in Leiden to discuss our works in progress. It was wonderful to welcome all my colleagues here in Leiden and to spend more time with them discussing our progress and our careers. When they were here last time in December 2016, I was unfortunately occupied with the Ocean of Law conference that I was co-organising.

We had plenty of time to discuss each one’s work; everyone had circulated their papers well in advance.  We started with Eirik Hovden’s paper on the theological and cosmological conceptions of the Muṭarrifiyya, a sub-branch of Zaydīsm in Yemen in about 1200 CE. I learnt a lot from the paper not only on this particular sect and their distinctive doctrines, but also on the general aspects of Zaydī political and social histories in Yemen. Then everyone discussed my paper on the uses and abuses of classical Shāfiʿī texts in the contemporary Muslim world. I got many comments and suggestions, especially on how to develop this paper into two different articles.

Next we discussed the paper of Nijmi Edres on conceptual changes in matters of child custody from classical Islamic law to the contemporary Sharia courts in Israel. Her major focus was on the writings of the Muslim jurist Zahalka and the ways in which he had elaborated on custody. We discussed next Omar Anchassi’s paper on the free/slave binary in juridical writings on sexual desire with regard to looking, touching and intercourse. The topic and the discussion were quite interesting especially to see how social status played a role in the conclusions of several Muslim jurists.

After the lunch break, we discussed how four of us can collaborate to produce an edited volume or a special issue of a journal. We explored several common themes, such authority/validity, identity and argumentation, but we concluded that we will continue this discussion in Göttingen, after all of us write a short note on a potential common theme.

In the evening, we walked through Leiden visiting historical monuments and enjoying a bright summer day. Next day morning we did a walking-tour through “the Islamic Leiden”. We started from the M. Vrieshof Building with a visit to the library of the Netherlands Institute for the Near East (NINO), particularly checking out its collection of Emile Ruete (Sayyida Salme), the East African princess. We went around the city looking for different remnants of Leiden’s long historical contacts with the Muslim world through texts, trade, languages and savants.  

The whole event was a highly refreshing and energising experience. Without the inhibitions of a formal setting or time constraints, we all could discuss our work thoroughly. Most importantly, we all got more time to talk to each other and to relax ourselves. I sincerely hope that this sandpit happens again quite soon.