A Panel Discussion on The Many Faces of Islamic Reform


Islamic Reform and Emancipatory Politics in the Age of Extremism and Neoliberalism

Siavash SaffariAssistant Professor of West Asian Studies, Seoul National University, South Korea
Mojtaba Mahdavi, ECMC Chair in Islamic Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta

When: Thursday, 8 February 2018, 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM
Where: Room 134, Telus Centre, University of Alberta

Abstract: An incessant search for the “Martin Luther of Islam” is ongoing in Western media and academia alike. Propelling this search is the misapprehension that just as Luther ended the dark ages of Christianity, a courageous Muslim visionary must now usher in an era of Islamic reformation and enlightenment. Its historically and theologically-false equivalency aside, the plea for a “Martin Luther of Islam” wholly ignores over a century of reformist efforts since the late-19th century al-Nahda (renaissance) movement. Far from lacking religious reformation, Muslim-majority societies have witnessed the rise and contestation of a wide range of religious reform initiatives, each with its own agents, methods, and objectives. The fallacious question of “who is the Martin Luther of Islam?”, therefore, must be relinquished in favor of more meaningful questions such as: what social, political, and economic visions are advanced by each of the existing Islamic reform projects? How do these projects respond to the present challenges of political authoritarianism, gender injustice, neoliberalism, and climate change? And which, if any, of these multivariate projects may ultimately contribute to the advancement of an emancipatory and progressive vision for our common future?

Bio: Siavash Saffari is an assistant professor of West Asian Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, Seoul National University (South Korea). He received a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Alberta, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University, New York. He is the author of Beyond Shariati: Modernity, Cosmopolitanism, and Islam in Iranian Political Thought (2017), and a co-editor of Unsettling Colonial Modernity in Islamicate Contexts (2017).

Mojtaba Mahdavi is the ECMC Chair in Islamic Studies and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta. He is the author and editor of numerous work on modern Islamic political thought, post-Islamism and contemporary social movements and democratization in the Middle East and North Africa. He is the co-editor of Towards the Dignity of Difference: Neither ‘End of History’ nor ‘Clash of Civilizations’ (2012) and the guest editor of Contemporary Social Movements in the Middle East and Beyond – Sociology of Islam (2014).  He is currently working on two book projects: Towards a Progressive Post-Islamism: Neo-Shariati Discourse in Postrevolutionary Iran, and The Myth of ‘Middle East Exceptionalism’:  The Unfinished Project of Social Movements in the Middle East and North Africa.