The New Cosmopolitanism: Global Migration and the Building of a Common Life

The Contending Modernities Global Migration working group is pleased to announce an interdisciplinary conference to be held in London, UK on 14 & 15 October 2013 – The New Cosmopolitanism: Global Migration and the Building of a Common Life. The conference grows out of the working group’s research project in London, which focuses on the ways that broad-based community organizing enables secular and religious citizens to build a common life. The conference will bring this research into dialogue with a wide range of theoretical and empirical research on the role of faith in public life in pluralist and culturally diverse societies. Read the full article »

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The Tyranny of Practice

It is characteristic of Western modernity that in discussions of schooling and business and politics there is a common truism: “theory into practice.” At the very least, the underlying assumption of this truism can readily be found there. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in schools of education, teacher education programs, and the institutional teaching and learning efforts of higher education. This saying yields a soft hammer, a gentle reminder that the theory must always be “grounded in practice” in order to be worthwhile — and profitable.

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An Interfaith Encounter with America (Part 3)

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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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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An Interfaith Encounter with America (Part 1)

“If Islam is so great and things are so wonderful back home, why did you come here?” As an international student from Pakistan who had grown up in a relatively privileged household, my transition to college life in America had promised to be seamless. And in many ways it was, at least outwardly. So my culture shock was extraordinarily abrupt. In the course of a midnight conversation on religion and politics, a fellow student had jolted me out of my comfort zone with his jarring question.

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Catholicism and Economic Life in the Arabian Peninsula (Part 2)

In my previous post I examined some of the ways in which the Catholic Church in the Arabian Peninsula helps cultivate skills and competencies that enable its members to achieve successful economic outcomes. A second set of resources it offers could be called ideational resources — ideals, attitudes, beliefs, and values that have a long-standing, habitual nature. Here, the classic example of how ideas or values contribute to economic outcomes is Weber’s argument, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Does Catholicism impart a distinctive “Catholic ethic” among its adherents in Gulf cities?

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The Qur’an, the Bible, and the urge to violence

Philip Jenkins’ September 2011 piece in this blog, “9/11: Did the Qur’an really make them do it?,” was an eye-opener. For me it was also a reminder of some anti-Semitic propaganda I found in an Istanbul bookstore years ago. One book was full of photos showing Israeli soldiers attacking Palestinians, with huge captions that included verses from the Old Testament. If the photograph showed Israelis breaking the bones of a Palestinian youngster, then the caption featured the biblical verse, “He shall break their bones” (Numbers 24: 8b). But I soon learned that militants who practice violence in the name of Judaism turn violent not because they read their religious texts. Rather, they focus on the harsher parts of those texts because they are already violent.

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Indian Catholics Responding to Globalization

When I first began researching call center workers in India, I was surprised to come across an article on a British news website about how the Catholic Archbishop of Bangalore had expressed public concern about rapidly mushrooming call centers. While most people outside India assume that call centers and “outsourcing” must be an unqualified boon for the country, the Archbishop fretted about their impact on the lifestyles of Indian youth.

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Catholics in the Call Center

In 2005, I visited Bangalore for the first time in ten years, and was astonished at the major facelift the city had undergone. The once quiet and easy-going “garden city” was now a thriving metropolis, dotted with an ever-growing number of shopping malls, coffee shops, glass-paneled office towers, KFC and McDonald’s franchises, and Pepsi billboards. Besides these usual symbols heralding the arrival of globalization, one new development struck me as peculiar: the outsourcing industry. I soon discovered that outsourcing highlights some of the important tensions between new modes of secularity and new religious modernities—including Catholic ones—emerging around the world.

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