Global Migration and the New Cosmopolitanism: New Reports, Workshop, and Film

The ambition of Contending Modernities is to bring academic research into dialogue with policy-making and grassroots practice. Its east London research project – with the Contextual Theology Centre (CTC) – is focused on the ways that community organising enables diverse communities to work together to discern and promote a common good. As well as producing research papers, it is generating a number of resources for the wider community.

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Nahdlatul Ulama: Good Governance and Religious Tolerance in Indonesia

Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, has been poorly understood in the West. While most Western political commentators and policy makers absorb an almost daily dose of news or intelligence regarding Islamist extremist organizations or terrorist groups in the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, there is far less information and understanding of Muslim peacemakers, moderate-progressive groups, and organizations that advocate for tolerance and pluralism. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is one of the world’s foremost Muslim associations devoted to the spread of the Islamic message of justice, peace, and tolerance. Read the full article »

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The Theistic Meaning of Morality

An exciting feature of the Contending Modernities project is the way it links the academic with the deeply practical. In east London, the project has enabled us to develop new resources for Muslim engagement in public life — something I blogged about back in August. And we are currently conducting wider research on the way faiths work together to discern and promote the common good. It is also helping us to look at some apparently very abstract issues — including the relationship between morality and metaphysics — and show their relevance to the debates around faith in public life. Read the full article »

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Debating the Status of Women in Tunisia

As noted in a previous post on the Contending Modernities blog by Michael Driessen, post-authoritarian Tunisia has become the site of fascinating debate between contending modernities — one being self-consciously Islamist and democratic and the other being assertively secular and liberal. One battlefield where the conflict is currently fiercest is the status of women.

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Beyond the Myth of Western-Muslim Clash

Since the rise of so-called “Western civilization” and “modernity,” the relationship between “the West” and the “Muslim world” is highly dynamic and unpredictable, marked by a constant ebb and flow. The encounter between the two has been marked by suspicions, tensions, clashes, and violent conflicts, as well as by cooperation and dialogue across these deep plural societies and overlapping cultures. These modernities will continue to be diverse and they will certainly continue to contend with each other. But their ongoing mutual contention and competition will be far less violent and far more fruitful if we can dispense with the destructive essentialisms recently in evidence in both Western and Muslim-majority societies.

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An Honest Conversation about Benghazi and Beyond

“[T]he events of the last two weeks…speak to the need for all of us to honestly address the tensions between the West and the Arab World…” Those words were spoken by President Obama in his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2012. Indeed, all the events swirling around a crude video insulting the Prophet Muhammad demand an honest conversation about the tensions between the West and the predominantly Muslim cultures of the Arab World — not to mention Muslim cultures beyond the Arab World. A logical forum for such a conversation is Contending Modernities. And the ideal host for such a conversation is Dr. Paola Bernardini, the new Associate Director for Research for Contending Modernities.

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Contending Conceptions of Democracy

The recent wave of violent reactions in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to the online video mocking the Prophet Muhammad may be taken as the most recent example of a clash between “contending modernities.” The US-based moviemaker is sometimes taken to represent the values of “Western democracy” and “free speech,” while the protesters in places such as Libya and Pakistan are taken to represent “extremism” and “illiberalism.” Arguably, though, they represent not a clash of “democracy” vs. “extremism” but a clash between rival conceptions of democracy.

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An Interfaith Encounter with America (Part 3)

Series:

Believers in a religion such as Islam can scarcely hope to speak for all Muslims, let alone for all humanity. They must accept the authority of a public sphere in which people are free to make their case to their fellow women and men on the basis of culturally normative modes of discourse. This sounds exactly like the manner in which prophets used to operate back in the day. Moses defeated the magicians in pharaoh’s court, and Muhammad outdid the Arab poets on their home turf.

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An Interfaith Encounter with America (Part 2)

Series:

In my spiritual quest that led to political Islam, I had one all-important stroke of fortune. Despite my zeal, I did not happen to get recruited by al-Qaeda! Instead, I landed in a group called Tanzeem-e-Islami, a Pakistani-based movement that had a few unique elements going for it, including advocacy of a nonviolent strategy of pursuing justice as well as the “revitalization of faith with an intellectual dimension.” I internalized these elements of Tanzeemi thought by traveling to learn Arabic, remaining true to a strategy of nonviolence, and pursuing the path of higher education.

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A New Covenant of Virtue

Central to Contending Modernities is the interplay between academic research and resources that can be used at the grassroots. In east London, we are seeing the first fruits of this approach with the publication of “A New Covenant of Virtue.” The booklet contains an essay by British and American writers on the Quranic motivation for Islamic engagement in multi-faith community organising, alongside a series of short case studies by local Muslim leaders on what this work looks like in practice. The booklet was launched last week in east London at a multi-faith “Iftar,” the meal with which Muslims break their Ramadan fast each night.

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