Politics of Modern Muslim Subjectivities: Islam, Youth, and Social Activism in the Middle East

  • Book Title:
 Politics Of Modern Muslim Subjectivities
  • Book Author:
Dietrich Jung
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  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction: “We Have a Collective Vision to Build Our Society” 1
  • Part I Theoretical and Analytical Framework:
  • Understanding Islamic History with the Help
  • of Social Theory 9
  • Modernity, Successive Modernities, and the Formation of the
  • Modern Subject 11
  • Modern Religion, Religious Organizations, and Religious
  • Social Action 25
  • Islamic Reform and the Construction of Modern Muslim
  • Subjectivities 37
  • Part II Politics of Muslim Subjectivities in Jordan 47
  • State and Islam in Jordan: The Contested Islamic Modern 51
  • Charities and Social Welfare Organizations in Jordan:
  • Negotiating the Islamic Modern 65
  • Charity and the Construction of Modern Muslim Subjectivities
  • in Jordan 85
  • Part III Politics of Muslim Subjectivities in Egypt 107
  • State and Islam in Egypt: Competing Models of Organized
  • Modernity 111
  • New Youth Organizations in Egypt: Charity and the
  • “Muslim Professional” 129
  • Leaders, Organizers, and Volunteers: Encountering
  • Idiosyncratic Forms of Subjectivities 151
  • Conclusions 171

Theoretical and Analytical Framework: Understanding Islamic History with the Help of Social Theory

Modernity is a highly contested concept. Since the foundation of the social sciences and humanities in the nineteenth century, different narratives have competed with each other in their claims to represent the whole of the mod- ern transformation. Scholars have invented a number of different analytical concepts in their attempts to grasp the essence of this continuing stream of social change.

These concepts have contested each other, and there is hardly any definition of modernity upon which contemporary scholars would mutually agree. At the same time, modernity almost randomly has been turned into a normative concept.

Political parties and social movements have used modernity as a normative category in the justification of their programs for the conscious reconstruction of societies. In popular political debates, political actors have claimed their right to power in the name of being modernizing agents.

There is no doubt that the modern history of Islam is also rich with examples demonstrating the various ways in which modernity served in this normative sense and has been used to underpin political action driven by both secular and religious ideologies. In short, modernity is both an analytical concept of human sciences and an emic term in culturally different discourses.1

In light of this complex mesh of scholarly, ideological and normative applications of the terms modern, modernity and modernization, this first part of the book will situate our work in the context of contemporary debates about modernity and religion in social theory.

In the first chapter we will explain our general theoretical perspective which frames the case studies in the second and third part of this book. Drawing selectively on classical narratives of modernity, theories of multiple and successive modernities, as well as modern systems theory and poststructuralist approaches to the formation of modern subjectivities, we elaborate a number of highly abstract but nevertheless applicable analytical concepts for our case studies.

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The second chapter puts its focus on the among scholars very controversial conceptualization of religion. We will present a pragmatic working definition of “modern religion” with respect to macro-sociological, organizational, and individual levels.

Finally, chapter three comprises two excursions into the modern history of Islam which serve as both an illustration of some of our theoretical reflections and as a historical contextualization for the following case studies. We first give a brief descriptive analysis of the Islamic reform movement which in the concept of an “Islamic modern” laid the foundations for the later construction of Islamic modernities.

The second excursion, then, will present a historical overview about the ways in which Islamic traditions contributed to shaping modern Muslim subjectivities. On the basis of these theoretical, analytical, and historical explications, the reader should be prepared to follow the argumentation that we unfold in the subsequent empirical parts of this book.

In light of the contested nature of modernity as an academic concept, the theoretical discussion in this chapter is guided by the general question as to how we can still make sense of modernity. How can we define and understand the related concepts of modernity, modernization, and “the modern”?

In classical sociology, the emergence of modern society was discussed as processes of rationalization, differentiation, and individualization. In juxtaposing tradition with modernity, classical sociologists conceptualized modern society as a relatively homogeneous structure of the social that evolved over time and space after a rupture with tradition by gradually increasing its rationality (Reckwitz 2008a, 227–9).

Emphasizing the theme of rationalization, post- World War II sociologists constructed modernization theories that proposed the linear and progressive development of societies toward convergence in a universal form of a modern social order. History has proven wrong these universal projections of the modernization theories of the 1950s and 1960s with their assertion of being able to predict the course of social change.

Empirically, modernization has generated both convergence and divergence among societies, representing modernity in a multiplicity of culturally different forms; it is to this multiplicity of forms that contemporary theories of “multiple modernities,” successive modernities, entangled modernities, or varieties of modernity refer.1

On the following pages, we will present a theoretical and analytical framework that builds selectively on different strands of contemporary social theory. We shall start with a very broad definition of modernity in the sin- gular, adopting the perspective of conceptualizing modernity via the experience of social contingency and a set of related fundamental questions, in the first section.

This perspective opens up to accommodate a multiplicity of alternative modernities without giving up a common point of reference for the modern condition. Then we combine theories of “multiple” and “suc- cessive” modernities that help us to think modernization in nonlinear and culturally fragmented ways. The second section will enhance this theoretical framework by making analytical use of two classical sociological narratives of modernity, the narratives of differentiation and of individualization.

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 In order to develop a language of observation, we borrow elements from modern systems theory and poststructuralist theories. On the macro-sociological level, modern systems theory will help us to observe modernization as a process of differentiation without accepting the reifying tendency of the functionalist tradition to represent society as a given structure.

On the micro level, we draw from poststructuralist theories in defining the modern subject, conceptualizing it as having a hybrid nature that is based on competing orders of social and discursive practices. Employing modern systems theory and poststructuralist approaches provides us the means to both critically revise the narratives of differentiation and integration and show their dialectically intertwined nature.

Moreover, these two strands of theories will help us to criticize liberal assertions about modern “Western” subjectivity, which have also made a deep inroad into the field of Islamic studies. Finally, this chapter presents three ideal types of modern subjectivity formation. Together with the three forms of successive modernities discussed prior to this, we consider these ideal types as forms of globally relevant social imaginaries to which Muslims also refer in their collective and individual identity constructions.

Contingency and Successive Modernities

A review of contemporary works on social theory reveals the concept of social contingency as being directly in the middle of mainstream interpretations of modernity. Meanwhile, a broad range of social theorists conceptualize soci- etal structures as contingent and modernization as an open and emergent social process whose systemic unity is no longer a given.

 Society is contex- tualized by different perspectives. Consequently, successful representations of modern society are only established on temporary hegemonies for which once the equation of society and national state was a prominent example (Bonacker 2008, 32–8).2 In conceptual terms, contingency rests on a double negation: Nothing is impossible and nothing is necessary (Frick 1988, 18; Luhmann 1992, 96). This penetrating idea of “all that is could be other- wise,” however, does not exclude the existence of relatively durable historical structures.

The resilience of social institutions and the path dependency of their emergence are cases in point. Specifically “modern” is the principal belief in the contingent nature of social life, the acknowledgment of its his- torically shifting complexities.

 Individuals and collectives live in constant tension between order and uncertainty, experiencing contingency histori- cally in the chaotic breakdown of previously firmly established orders. In this sense, contingency is a fundamental experience of modern humankind (Wuchterl 2011, 7–11).

In adopting this perspective, we define modernization as a process in which the transformation of contingency into necessity became a central, inner-worldly, heavily contested, and autonomous task for collectives and individuals alike. Identifying the core condition of modernity in social con- tingency, we understand modernity by posing a set of open questions, rather than relating it to an integrated set of specific modern institutional answers.

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These recurring questions are, for instance, about the certainty in knowl- edge, a just and viable social order, and appropriate forms of collective and individual selfhoods that guarantee the identities of the present in relation to the past and future. What do we know?

 How should we live? Who are we and where do we come from? Modernity is characterized by the ongoing confrontation with these fundamental questions to which humanity can find only historically temporal solutions (Wagner 2001). Although abstracted from European historical experiences, the inherent logic of this theoreti- cal perspective undermines the authoritative role the narrative of Western modernization has tried to play.

The history of the West and its particular modern social institutions is nothing other than historically specific paths of engaging with modern predicaments. Defining modernity through ques- tions instead of institutions contributes, therefore, to an understanding of what was called the “provincialization of Europe,” the abandonment of a straight equation of modernization with Westernization.3

We consider theories of multiple modernities to be an expression of this provincialization of Europe among contemporary modernization theories.

They refute the idea of a convergence of societies, while retaining the prem- ise of a number of common features of modernity, however, combining these features with different cultural programs that frame their historical realization (Eisenstadt 2000). Accordingly, different forms of the modern are the result of relatively stable and historically rooted cultural programs.

 Through these lenses, scholars observe and compare the emergence of alter- native modernities that not only open up the concept for non-Western forms such as Islamic, Chinese, or Japanese modernities, but also do away with the homogenizing view on Europe and the Americas that tends to lump their cultures together in the idea of a single Western modernity as such. The story of Western modernity is then told as that of the multiple modernities of Europe and the Americas (Allardt 2005).

While the concept of multiple modernities rejects the notion of a universal cultural form of modernity, theories of “successive modernities” have replaced the linear developmental model of modernization theories by con- ceptualizing modernization in terms of ruptures and social breaks.

With reference to the work of Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Peter Wagner, we can differentiate analytically between three successive stages of modernity: restricted liberal modernity, organized first modernity, and pluralistic high or second modernity.4

 In this distinction, each of these successive stages has evolved from a crisis of the previous stage. The first form of a restricted liberal modernity was characterized by an elitist top-down application of morally and rationally grounded liberal rules. While liberal rules applied to a distinguished bourgeois minority, the majority of the people were excluded….

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