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Translating Islam
Abstract: One of the difficulties in analyzing what Islam comes to mean since the
nineteenth century is the absence of agreement on what Islam actually is. Is it a name for
a religion, a concept, a technical term, a sign, a taxonomy, a geographic denotation, a
communal identity? This lack of clarity on whether Islam could be all these things at the
same time and for different people is compounded by the multiple referents and
significations that Islam acquires in this period and which it did not possess before.
European Orientalists and Muslim and Arab thinkers begin to use Islam in a multiplicity
of ways while seemingly convinced that it possesses an immediate intelligibility that
requires no specification or definition. The lecture will examine the implications of this
for the translation of Islam into modern usage, not only in European languages, but also
in modern Arabic.
Biography: Joseph Massad teaches modern Arab politics and intellectual history at
Columbia University. He is the author of Colonial Effects, The Making of National
Identity in Jordan (2001), The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on
Zionism and the Palestinians (2006), Desiring Arabs (2007), Daymumat al-Mas'alah alFilastiniyyah (2009), and La Persistance de la question palestinienne (2009). In addition
to publishing numerous studies in academic journals, Professor Massad writes
journalistic columns for Al-Jazeera English, Al-Ahram Weekly, and the Lebanese daily
Al-Akhbar.