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Charles Hirschkind

Dept. of Anthropology | University of California - Berkeley
Symposium Co-Organizer

My research interests concern religious practice, media technologies, and emergent forms of political community in the Middle East, North America, and Europe. Taking contemporary developments within the traditions of Islam as my primary focus, I have explored how various religious practices and institutions have been revised and renewed both by modern norms of social and political life, and by the styles of consumption and culture linked to global mass media practices. My first book, The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (Columbia 2006), explores how a popular Islamic media form-the cassette sermon-has profoundly transformed the political geography of the Middle East over the last three decades. Based on a year and a half of field research, my study examines how sermon tapes have provided one of the means by which Islamic ethical traditions have been recalibrated to a modern political and technological order, to its noise, forms of pleasure and boredom, but also to its political incitements, its call to citizen participation. Focusing on popular neighborhoods of Cairo, my analysis highlights the pivotal role these tapes now play in an expanding arena of Islamic argumentation and debate-what I call an "Islamic counterpublic." This emergent public arena connects Islamic traditions of ethical discipline to practices of deliberation about the common good, the duties of Muslims as national citizens, and the challenges faced by diverse Muslim communities around the globe.