The seminar investigates the roles of literacy and writing in religious traditions. Its goal is to serve as a research group for the comparative study of literacy and the uses of writing as a form of communication technology in world religions. Approaching the relationship between religion and writing through the lenses of literacy and communication technology, the seminar strives to address all media – from inscriptions on stone and clay tablets to internet websites – and all literary genres – from myths and commentaries to divine revelations and hymns – as well as the theoretical and practical implications of the absence, or rejection, of writing.
2013/2014 – Religious Books and Orthodoxy:
From Censorship and Book Burning to Copyright and Trademarks
September 10, 2013 – David Greetham (CUNY Graduate Center): Trial by Fire: Religion and Book-Burning
October 29, 2013 – Emile Schrijver (Universiteit van Amsterdam): Natural and Unnatural Boundaries of the Jewish Book
November 19, 2013 – M. Rahim Shayegan (UCLA): The King and his Audience: On the Composition and Reception of Royal Inscriptions in Ancient Iran and the Iranian World (Generously sponsored by the American Institute of Iranian Studies)
December 12, 2013 – Jessica Litman (University of Michigan): Copyright and Churches
January 28, 2014 – Aleksandr I. Naymark (Hofstra University): Treating Images as Texts: A Reconstruction of the Sogdian Pantheon from the Images of Sogdian Ossuaries
February 18, 2014 – David S. Powers (Cornell University): BNF MS arabe 328a: Manipulation of Text and Meaning in an Early Quran Manuscript
March 25, 2014 – Zeynep Tüfekçi (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill): Who Tweets for the Ummah? From Clash of Civilizations to Bonds of Humor, from Innocence of Muslims to #Muslimrage
The emergence of social media has been reconfiguring public spaces in many Muslim countries. This transition has been even more jarring than in Western societies, as many of these countries had, until recently, fairly closed and restrictive public spheres. This reconfiguration of public visibility also had jarring effects on Western perceptions of the Muslim world, since previously silent “subjects”, imagery of which oscillated from powerless victims to bloodthirsty savages, can now speak for themselves at a scale and reach that would have difficult to impossible without social media. In this seminar, I examine two intertwined cases: the spread of the “Innocence of Muslims” video which caused protests in a variety of Muslim countries as well as a portrayal of Muslims as savages irredeemably opposed to free speech in US mass media; and the global uptake of the #muslimrage hashtag as an ironical, humorous response by Muslim youth around the world to being stereotyped. My core thesis is that social media reveal a reconfiguration, rather than a clash, of civilizations as Muslim voices are increasingly represented in their actual diversity rather than typecast according to stereotypes and expectations. As the diversity of voices increases, orthodoxy in religion as well as orthodoxy in representations of a religion by the Western press are both under strain.
April 22, 2014 – Ronald Wallenfels (New York University): Canonicity and the Cuneiform Traditions
The meetings of the Columbia University Seminar on Religion and Writing (#751) are usually held on Tuesdays in the Faculty House of Columbia University, 400 West 117th Street, New York, N.Y. 10027 (for directions, click here). We will gather after 5.30 pm, either in the lobby, if the bar is open, or on the second floor, where dinner will follow at 6 pm. The talk will begin at 7:00 pm sharp.
Columbia University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. University Seminar participants with disabilities who anticipate needing accommodations or who have questions about physical access may contact the Office of Disability Services (tel. 212-854-2388, disability [at] columbia.edu). Disability accommodations, including sign-language interpreters, are available on request. Requests for accommodations must be made two weeks in advance. On campus, Seminar participants with disabilities should alert a Public Safety Officer that they need assistance accessing campus.
The abstracts of all talks since January 2012 are archived here. Please do not hesitate to contact us for any further information. If you wish to attend a seminar meeting, please email Deborah Shulevitz (dgs2016 [ at ] columbia.edu).
Mahnaz Moazami & Dagmar Riedel, co-chairs
Center for Iranian Studies
mm1754 [at] columbia.edu
dar2111 [at] columbia.edu
Deborah Shulevitz, rapporteur
Department of History
dgs2016 [ at ] columbia.edu
Last updated, 26 February 2014.