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Scholars Explore Muslim Identities through Performances, Lectures

October 2, 2016
College of Arts & Sciences

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scholar Carl W. Ernst will lead an interdisciplinary conference on the diversity of Muslim beliefs. A complementary 11-performance series hosted by Carolina Performing Arts will feature music and dance from four Muslim-majority nations.

The yearlong CPA series, “Sacred/Secular: A Sufi Journey,” will feature performances reflecting the diversity of Muslim identity and the inextricable link between local culture and religion. The series includes music and dance from Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Senegal alongside artists responding to the values of Sufism and the diverse views of culture and faith in the United States.

“We hope these activities will stimulate critical reflection on campus about how we conceptualize the Muslim world, given the diversity of cultural expression among majority-Muslim societies,” said Ernst, William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations.

Popular culture tends to view the world’s major religions homogenous, when the complex history of religion encompasses a spectrum of beliefs based on location, culture and many other factors. Misconceptions about Islam abound, Ernst said, but so do close connections among the world’s religions. These will be explored through academic discussions and performances.

For example, Middle East scholar and history professor Beth Baron from the City University of New York will discuss the impact of Christian missionaries on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Members of that organization did not convert but adopted concepts and techniques the missionaries espoused.

Seventh-generation Indonesian mask dancer Nani will perform a dance rooted in indigenous Javanese culture that appears shamanistic but was, as she relates, introduced by Sufi missionaries.

The fall workshop, “Islam and Religious Identity: The Limits of Definition,” to be held Oct. 14-16, will feature leading scholars from diverse disciplines, including religious studies, history and anthropology, who will examine and question the categories and concepts used to define Muslim identities. The event will also serve as the annual conference of the Duke-UNC Consortium in Middle East Studies.


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