Abstracts of the presentations

The Paradise at Women’s Feet

Francesca Caferri

The day a group of armed men jumped on a bus in a far-away valley of Pakistan and shot a young female student in the head, they had no idea of the consequences of their act. They thought they were going to silence Malala Yousafzai forever. Instead, they sparked a revolution, in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world.

Today, Malala Yousafzai is recovering in a hospital in Great Britain. Her family and doctors say that the young girl wants to go back to fighting for what she believes in – girls’ education – as soon as possible.

Malala Yousafzai is the powerful symbol of a revolution that has been going on in the Muslim countries for years, but that we, in the West, only noticed in 2011 during the Arab spring: the revolution of women.

In the last 20 to 30 years, women in the Muslim world made amazing gains. Compared to previous generations, today’s young women have greater opportunities to study and work, marry later, and have a greater voice in the political and social institutions of their countries. They also have fewer children, thereby giving themselves and the children they do bring into the world better educational opportunities and access to health care. This change has enormous consequences, which include an increase in the level of education for women; the narrowing of the education gap between the sexes; and greater female participation in the world of work.

Running in parallel to the drop in the birth rate is a growth in the percentage of girls going to school, particularly in the wealthier countries in the region: today 90% of girls go to primary school, in 12 countries 80% are enrolled in secondary school and more than half of the best students are female. The trends are similar when we consider the number of women working or getting in politics.

Western media were amazed to find women at the helm of revolution in Tahrir Square in Cairo. They were surprised to find out that a conservative woman from the poorest country of the Middle East, Tawakkul Karman from Yemen, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

I always say there is not much to be surprised of: women like Tawakkul are at the forefront of a movement that has many faces, but one that is succeeding in changing the face of the Muslim world and will do so to an even greater extent in the future. They are at work in offices and in universities, in the squares where they demonstrate, and in the parliaments where they have managed to make laws more favourable to women.

This movement can lay claim to its own origins, its own traditions, its own religion, and does not merely ape the Western world. We have to follow their fight if we want to understand where the Muslim world is going in the future.



Religion, Culture and Politics

Nawal El Saadawi

Religious books are political books dealing with class, race , patriarchy, power , culture, sex , identity , double morality and all aspects of life in the state and in the family. The female goddesses in ancient Egypt disappeared in history and were replaced by male gods, then one male sky god appeared in monotheism.

The postmodern religious fundamentalist movements are global-local ( ‘glocal’ ) political-economic movements, serving the capitalist patriarchal military colonial commercial system. Women and the poor suffer more than others by those religious movements.



China’s Path between Collective Society and Individualisation

Prof. Dr. Mette Halskov Hansen

One of the most exciting changes in modern Chinese society concerns the relation between the individual and collectives such as family, community, and state. The Chinese authorities are now consciously trying to foster citizens who are, at the same time, capable of being innovative and taking personal responsibility in a neoliberal capitalist economy, while remaining loyal to the one-party system and the Communist Party’s leadership. Based on anthropological fieldwork in rural areas and state schools in China since the mid-1990’s, the presentation will discuss how processes of individualisation have developed in modern China, and how people try to cope with them.



Civil Society under Strain in China

Prof. Dr. Jude Howell

This paper explores three phenomena of the early millennium which have placed civil society as an idea and an empirical practice under strain. These relate to: first, the Global War on Terror; second, global recession; and third, the emergence of China as an increasingly powerful economic and political power in the world. My paper focuses mainly on the effects of the Global War on Terror on civil society. It argues that this has led not only to a reassessment of civil society in the millennium, but also to a more deliberate crafting of a particular vision of civil society that subordinates it to the functional and political interests of the state. Such a vision of civil society celebrates its functional role in service delivery and the maintenance of social and political order at the expense of a more emancipatory vision of civil society, characterised by civic practices of solidarity and emancipation.

The paper begins by exploring two competing but complementary dynamics to the global War on Terror’s impact on state-civil society relations, namely, a dynamic of suspicion, surveillance, and repression; and a dynamic of co-optation. It outlines the historical background to these dynamics and then explores how after 9/11, national governments and international institutions introduced a raft of measures, laws, and regulations to curb the activities of certain parts of civil society, particularly Muslim community organisations, charities, and international development NGOs working in conflict zones and in the Middle East. It also discusses the way governments have sought to bring certain civil society groups into their security agenda through funding, dialogue, and co-operation. As well as providing examples of these dynamics, the paper also reflects on the responses of parts of civil society to these, and the implications of these for the development of civil society.

Finally, it links these developments to two parallel phenomena, namely, the global recession that has taken its toll on government budgets since 2008, and the rise of China as a global economic and political player. Together, these trends point to challenging global times for civil society, as states seek to shape their engagement with organised citizens more strategically.



Between Tradition and Globalisation: Africa’s Efforts with ‘Modernity’

Prof. Dr. Elísio Macamo

There are two concepts of ‘modernity’. There is the ‘naked’ modernity, i.e. a modernity without quotation marks. It eliminates the distance that has crept in between tradition and globalisation and has thus turned Africa into a constant problem. It is the modernity of possibilities that is not yet depleted and that is still in the process of completing itself, as Jürgen Habermas determined. The other modernity can only be contemplated with quotation marks. It is a modernity that has its roots in the Enlightenment. It is a modernity that has declared the future to be a social project, to speak with Peter Wagner. This modernity has established a teleological conception of history that has proved fatal for Africa. Its conviction that Europe has been called upon to subjugate the world and all of its cultures has degraded African history to a footnote. It now lives in the interspaces of a great narrative that has no suitable vocabulary to make Africa understandable without relating to the history of ‘modernity’.

Africa’s efforts with ‘modernity’ are the efforts caused by denied promises. The African experience of modernity is initially the experience of colonialism. This experience is based on the tension between promises and their denial. Everywhere where colonialism thrived, it on the one hand promised a share in the fruits of the conquest of the future through rationalism and science. On the other hand, it withheld this share of progress, autonomy, wealth, and emancipation from the constraint of tradition from a considerable portion of humanity.

This was based on the differentiation between Europeans and Africans. The citizen was the subject of a self-assured history that supplied him with agency and designs for the future. The subordinated, on the other hand, was (and still is) an object of history as a social project: the noble savage. Africa has since gained its independence, but the initial attitude towards Africa has hardly changed.

Africa’s experience of modernity has always moved in this gap. It has always been a balancing act to make one’s way in the tense relationship between promises and their denial. In Historical Ontology (2002), the Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking wrote about the possibility of being human (making up people) as a basic motif of historical events. Africans have done just that, reinventing themselves again and again, and have thus proclaimed a history of an in-between society.

Africa’s efforts with ‘modernity’ are the efforts we should all make when we deal with the possibility of a true description of the world. Jack Goody has very concisely expressed this problem in his manifesto against ‘modernity’ (The Theft of History, 2007): the strongly developed Western tendency to claim intellectual property rights on modernity has led to the deficiency of the modern vocabulary for describing other (cultural) realities. In this context, the claim to universalism that is brought up again and again in the context of ‘modernity’ has to be seen with scepticism, because it is always based on the dismissal of other experiences. The chaos that greets us when we look to Africa is a result of the deficiency of our vocabulary when translating European experiences to local languages.

Tradition and globalisation are terms in which ‘modernity’ feels at home when thinking about Africa. ‘Modernity’ castrated itself when it went in for the illusion of being able to tame the future with concepts. It frees Africa, when instead of a teleological conception of history it reminds us that our existence is woven with the gossamer threads of contingency. Not the taming of history and the future is the answer to this situation, but the confidence that grows once we free ourselves from presumption.



Evangelical Activism in Light of the Recent US Election and the Impact on Politics and Economics

Prof. Dr. Marcia Pally

Evangelical Christians, America’s largest voting bloc, have long been associated with the political right, with profound impact on US economic, domestic, and foreign policy. Yet over the last eight years, this group has undergone profound shifts in political ethics and activism away from the religious right, towards environmental protection, economic justice, and immigration reform. I will describe these shifts in light of the Obama presidency and demographic changes in the US, and discuss their political impacts.



Glocality: Beyond the Modernity and Tradition Binary

Prof. Dr Roland Robertson

Current and seemingly successful attempts to overcome the distinction between the local and the global are rapidly resulting in recognition of the significance of glocality as the primary way in which the contemporary human condition can be characterised. This contribution will sketch the origins and diffusion of the concept of the glocal, and connect these to current debates within social and cultural theory. In doing so, I will emphasise the extreme limitations of reductionist, fundamentalist, metaphoracist, and unidimensional approaches.



Jewish Memory and the Cosmopolitan Order

Prof. Dr. Natan Sznaider

My paper starts with the assumption that Europe at the beginning of the 21st century is looking for some shared cultural imageries providing the cultural backbone to the crisis-ridden currency of the euro. What could that cultural imagery look like?

Many intellectuals have repeatedly invoked the seminal role of the memory of the Holocaust as a foundational event for such a shared past. This scenario is only the starting point for my look at the prospects for a new Europe, how they relate to memories of the Holocaust, and the cosmopolitan promises attached to them.

In addition, I want to pose the question: whatever happened to the Jewish voices in this new cosmopolitan constellation? And looking at Europe from a Jewish vantage point, what is the meaning of a future Europe?

Thus my presentation deals with Jewish memory. I develop a genealogy which will allow me to write the idea of ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’ back into the steady development of history, where it belongs. I will try to come to terms with one of the fundamental perplexities of modernity: on the one hand, the idea that deep down we are all the same – the defining idea of modernity –; and on the other hand, the presence of our particular identity that defines so many things we care about, and seems to oppose us to so many other people. When one looks at Jewish memory, one discovers a kind of travelling memory. This kind of memory is very often based on experiences that originated spatially in Eastern Europe, but moved and travelled from there to Western Europe, the USA, South Africa, Latin America, and Israel while at the same time being able to travel back to Eastern Europe. It is my argument that this kind of cosmopolitan memory poses a challenge to the ideas which bind history and borders tightly together, and opens up the possibility that territoriality is not the only possible means of social and symbolic integration.



Cultural Heritage between Tradition and Modernism: The Example of Bhutan

Prof. Dr. Susanne von der Heide

Placed in the heart of the Himalayan mountain range, Bhutan is a small country with about 750,000 inhabitants, south of the Tibetan region of China and bordered on three sides by the north-eastern Indian states. Traditionally, trade of medicinal herbs, grain, wool, spices, and partly gold was carried out between these borders, which over the centuries led to the establishment of important monasteries, dzongs, temples, and stupas along these trading routes, forming Buddhist cultural landscapes of great significance.

The rich cultural heritage of Bhutan is to a great degree not a remnant of the past, but a living culture, where age-old traditions are vibrant and still continue to have clear significance in the everyday life of the Bhutanese people. Cultural heritage with its diversity is considered the foundation upon which the identity of the Bhutanese people is built. The state religion is Buddhism of the Tibetan Lamaist tradition. Among the various communities, pre-Buddhist shamanistic belief of Bon is also still practised.

Recently, the former Buddhist kingdom was transformed into a constitutional monarchy with a democratic system in a peaceful process. In 2013, elections will be carried out in the country for the second time. The presentation will examine changes and challenges that have occurred since democracy was introduced to Bhutan, in particular regarding the cultural heritage of the Bhutanese people.