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Doubt and Certitude in Islam

International research seminar

Info about event


Wednesday 14 December 2016, at 09:00 - Thursday 15 December 2016, at 14:00


Moesgaard Museum, conf. room, 3rd floor 4240-301 (access through back entrance)

Is there a place for doubt in Islam? In contemporary public debates in the West, the “problem of Islam” is often associated with blind faith in archaic religious scriptures and a general incapacity of doubt and critical thinking. However, in Muslim practice as well as intellectual thinking this view is challenged by a range of diverging interpretations, intense discussions, and even armed conflict. With this seminar we aim to challenge the public image of Islam by asking: What is the place of doubt in the social and religious lives of various Muslims? What is the relationship between religious doubt, certitude, and critical thinking? What forms of cultural, political, and religious critique are cultivated or disabled through different modalities of religious practice?

Recent debates in the anthropology of Islam have focused on the piety of Muslims, the lack of piety, and the development of various Muslim subjectivities. This seminar proposes to advance this focus by bringing together key scholars whose work has evolved around the question of faith and doubt in contemporary Muslim traditions and practices. When and how are various Muslims certain and uncertain of the presence of the divine in their lives, their own faith, and their interpretation of Islamic texts? How are such certainties and uncertainties expressed, and how are they affected by current pressures of growing sectarianism on the one side and secular understandings of critique on the other? What role does doubt play among contemporary Muslims, and how can this question develop current academic understandings of Muslim piety and subjectivity?

The seminar is free and open to all. Please register by sending an email entitled “Doubt and Certitude” to: Nynne Visbo-Bomose nynnevb@cas.au.dk.


December 14, 9 am – 5.30 pm

9.00 – 9.15 am: Welcome, coffee, practicalities

9.15 – 10.30 am: Session 1

  • Chair: Mikkel Rytter, Aarhus University
  • Giulia Liberatore, University of Oxford, "Navigating Islamic knowledge in London: reflections on the opposition between pious conviction and doubt."
  • Christian Suhr, Aarhus University, "Methodological atheism among 'religious fanatics.'”

11.00 am – 12.15 pm: Session 2

  • Chair: Thomas Fibiger, Aarhus University
  • Heiko Henkel, University of Copenhagen, "The halal regime and liberal citizenship."
  • Thomas Hoffmann, University of Copenhagen "'Perhaps….' or the Rhetoric of Doubt and Ambiguity in the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Biography."

12.15 – 1.15 pm: Lunch

1.15 – 2.30 pm: Session 3

  • Chair: Nils Bubandt, Aarhus University
  • Dietrich Jung, University of Southern Denmark, "Subjectivity, Modern Contingency and Islamic Reform: Approaching Doubt and Certitude with Social Theory."
  • Mayanthi L. Fernando, University of California Santa Cruz, "The Ethics and Politics of Non-Sovereignty."

3.00–4.45 pm: Session 4

  • Chair: Mark Sedgwick, Aarhus University
  • Elvire Corboz, Aarhus University, "The Shi'i Marja'iyya, its Representatives, and the Constitution of a Transnational Trust Network."
  • Martin Riexinger, Aarhus University, "The civilization of doubt: Mawdūdī’s characterization of the West."
  • Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, University of Copenhagen, "Doubt on Display"

5.00 – 5.30 pm: General discussion chaired by Nils Bubandt


December 15, 9 am – 2 pm

9.00 – 9.15 am: Good morning, coffee, practicalities

9.15 – 10.30 am: Session 5

  • Chair: Mikkel Rytter, Aarhus University
  • Thomas Fibiger, Aarhus University, "Walahu Alim – God knows better: Doubt and Certitude in a Sectarian Setting in Kuwait."
  • Edith Szanto, American University of Sulaimani, "When Kurds doubt Islam."

11.00 – 12.15 am: Session 6

  • Chair: Christian Suhr, Aarhus University
  • Karen Waltorp, Aarhus University, "Counting people’s sins does not make you a saint"
  • Maria Louw, Aarhus University, "Irony as Moral Mood among Muslims in Kyrgyzstan."

12.15 – 1.00 pm: General discussion


1.00 – 2.00 pm: Lunch and farewells

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