Humanitarianism, Activism, Media, Religion: A Public Panel and Media Project

The SSRC (Social Science Research Council), in conjunction with the Center for Study of Democracy, is going to be holding a panel discussion on the distinctions and similarities between religious and secular medias. Panelists will include Birgit Meyer (VU University Amsterdam), Charles Hirschkind (University of California, Berkeley) and Peter Redfield (University of North Carolina). In particular, I am curious about Hirschkind’s talk on The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (2006), in where he will explore how a popular form of Muslim media [i.e., the cassette sermon], has profoundly transformed the political geography of the Middle East over the last three decades. While Hirschkind’s work looks primarily at the Middle East, I think it would be equally pertinent in both Salafi and Sufi circles in the States [I continue to witness the prevalence of the cassette sermon here in Philadelphia amongst the Blackamerican community].

If you have a chance to attend, it will be Thursday, October 23, from 6-8pm in the library at Columbia University’s Casa Italiana, located at 1161 Amsterdam Avenue. For more info, see the SSRC’s web site and blog. Let me know if you have notes from the event [I am teaching that evening and cannot attend].

4 Replies to “Humanitarianism, Activism, Media, Religion: A Public Panel and Media Project”

  1. By cassette sermons I [and Hirschkind] am referring to the phenomenon of the use of cassettes and CD’s of khutbahs/sermons to disseminate religious knowledge. In the American context, these cassettes developed into something of a cottage industry where the sermons of, for example, many Salafi imams, could be perpetuated throughout Muslim communities. Where I live currently, in West Philadelphia, one can go into several locally owned Muslim shops and purchase CD’s or cassettes of these imams. What I believe Hirschkind is looking at is how this is a new form of propagating certain religious teachings through the use of technology. This should be seen as an attack on Salafism, on my part, for there are other non-Salafi institutions that have used the same method. In fact, Zaytuna is one that comes to mind, in which they have even taken it to a new level by using web technologies, with the podcasts supplanting cassettes and CD’s [they also a large collection of CD’s of sermons and talks as well]. I see this as a way of “extending the mimbar” if you will, from within the confines of the masjid into whatever personal spaces an individual may be in where s/he can listen to these tapes, CD’s, podcasts, etc.

  2. Salaams,
    My first introduction to cassette sermons were mainly from the WD community back in the early nineties. My friend used to have Imam Faheem Shu’aib’s ta’alim lectures on cassette. He’d distribute those like mixed tapes, be like, “Yo sis, you gotta listen to the imam break it down!” I never really got into them myself. I listened to arabic lectures to work on the Arabic, but other than that, it never really suited me. The issue that I have is that when the madrasa was developed in the 11th century, they were far more interactive. Students asked questions, they were expected to be able to reproduce that knowledge, they were being just lectured at. Sometimes the commentary is not organized or rigorously disciplined. It can get quite tangental if you ask me. I think it is great that people are in touch with many of the basic manuals and texts that are important in our intellectual heritage. But I don’t think that through the CD we can truly engage with the texts as they were intended. That knee to knee chain connecting scholars with their students has been broken. It is what it is. I can’t call something traditional if it has been reconfigured in such a way as to render a text and its transmission largely unrecognizable. It is something novel, which is not a bad thing within itself. But we can’t make claims about tradition, when it is something novel.

  3. I agree with Aziza that somehow,the cassette sermons of the last 10yrs has taken the originallity of the text readings and the teacher/student connectivity. When am listening a sermon througha cd or a tape, I feel somehow that there is something lacking that was there in the madrasas. I listen to tape sermon whenever I can and eventhough it is informative, it would have been better if we could come up with some other way of spreading the hadith and the Quran whenever possible.InshaAllah, we will prevail in reintroducing the original text readings,that way many muslim brothers and sisters, and non-muslims that may want to learn islam can witness for themselves how the Quran was taught in the 11th century

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