Approaches to Pluralism in Muslim Contexts

Approaches to Pluralism in Muslim Contexts

This year's second seminar in a series entitled, Approaches to Pluralism in Muslim Contexts, was organised by Aga Khan University's Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) on Friday, June 18, 2004. The series is gradually gaining prominence and many academicians have now become regular participants. Besides the heads and faculty members of various universities and research institutions in England, the seminar also attracts a number of professionals and prominent members of the Muslim community in the UK.

Seminar speakers: Professor Nur Yalman (left) and Professor Jack Goody (right) explored the dynamics of global forces and reassertions of local identities with a particular focus on Muslim contexts.

The June seminar, titled, Globalisation and Local Cultures explored the dynamics of global forces and reassertions of local identities with a particular focus on Muslim contexts. The two seminar speakers were Professors Nur Yalman and Jack Goody. 

Nur Yalman, Professor of Social Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, suggested that many features of the current globalisation have a long historical precedent. He pointed out that although cultural borrowing has been an on-going phenomenon which effectively assisted in the spread of human technology; it has also led to a feeling of insecurity in the recipient cultures. He attributed these feelings of insecurity to the intimate connection between cultural exchanges and balance of powers among the members of a particular culture. Due to this connection, such exchange is often of unequal benefit to different groups which, in turn, could lead to a variety of reactions, including overt resistance to cultural interactions. He proposed that this dynamics provides a good model for comprehending current geo-political and cultural situation.

Participants at the seminar 'Globalisation and Local Cultures' held at AKU-ISMC.

Jack Goody is Emeritus Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology at St. John's College Cambridge and one of the top anthropologists today. Drawing extensively upon his vast field works, he argued that the cultural borrowing happens differently with regard to technology and thought. He referred to several examples to show that while it was easy to transplant technological achievements across cultures, the movement of ideas and, particularly, metaphysical and ethical ideas, was far less fluid. This was because these ideas are always linked with existentialand identity issues. He also argued that a historical study of such interactions provides a sobering analysis of the limits and possibilities of globalization as we are experiencing today.

The presentations were followed by a discussion among speakers and participants during which the distinctive features of the current form of globalisation, the reassertion of racial, religious and linguistics identities, the role and limits of education in dealing with the resulting challenges and the question of the changing nature of the idea of culture were addressed. Some participants spoke about the implications of the arguments raised in the discussion vis-à-vis contemporary and future challenges of Muslims.

Earlier, in his welcome address, Dr. Filali-Ansary, Director of AKU-ISMC, spoke about the work of the Institute, particularly stressing its goal of bringing together scholars from various persuasions for meaningful intellectual encounters. He succinctly outlined the key debates surrounding globalisation and local cultures.​​