The 1st Raden Intan International Conference on Muslim Societies and Social Sciences

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Who Speaks for Islam?:

Rethinking Religious Authority in Contemporary Muslim Societies

Religious authority is a slippery concept. One may refer to it as the rights to impose rules which are deemed to be in consonant with the will of God (Gaborieau 2005), meaning that authority shall only function in the absence of coercion. However, the exercise of religious authority in Muslim (and many other) societies is intimately linked to power. As Kramer and Schmidtke (2006) argue, it involves the ability to construct the canon of the authoritative; to define correct belief and practice of the religion; to shape and influence the views and attitudes of other people; and to identify, marginalize, and punish religious deviance, heresy and apostasy. Still, the work of religious authority also depends on the willingness of others to accept the authority of any given person or institution. This infers that religious authority is also exercised on the basis of trust, legitimacy, recognition, and acquiescence.

Traditionally, the construction of religious authority in Islam is consisted of a various degree of combination between textuality, discursive methods, and personified knowledge (Mandaville 2007). This means, the stronghold of Islamic religious authority, since the formative period of Islam, has always been contingent, plural and relational. This is because, as long as the normative texts of Islam are mute until they are interpreted (textuality), to deal with these texts requires a set of expert knowledge that is premised on certain level of literacy and requisite training (discursive methods). This requirement has in turn pluralized Islamic authority on the hands of diverse categories of classified producers and transmitters of that knowledge, such as the religious scholars (ulama’), the Sufi leaders, and the political figures (personified knowledge). Moreover, since Islam has no such an ordained clergy as in a Christian Church, what counts as authoritative knowledge of Islam has always been contested among diverse epistemological, social, cultural, and political orders and actors.

Yet, these are not the only factors that have influenced the construction of religious authority. Social, economic, technological, and political transformations in society are crucial to the ways in which religious authority are reconfigured among Muslims. In the last two-decades, for example, we have witnessed how the advent of new media and Internet-based communication technologies, process of democratization, and the rise of mass education and literacy rates in many Muslim-populated countries, have invited the emergence of various new types of Muslim actors, who do not necessarily have ‘formal’ religious qualifications, but vigorously created alternative sites of learning about, and speaking of and for Islam (Eickelman and Anderson 1999). These include, among others, popular celebrity preachers, video You-Tubers and bloggers, novel writers, political figures, and young filmmakers. Also, the rise of globalization has enabled the flux of transnational Islamic movements, such as Hizbut Tahrir and Muslim Brotherhoods across various Muslim countries. Not to mention, we also witness the rise of female ulama’ who have the ability to intervene in public debates on matters related to religion. These new actors and institutions, subsequently, are subverting, breaking with, and even attacking the traditional structures of scholarship, ideologies and authorities in the Muslim world (Devji 2005), forcing us the rethink the construction, pluralization, and contestation of religious authority in present day Muslim societies.

Based on this background, this conference is devoted to invite scholars working on Islam in different societies and from various disciplines to share their ideas on how the construction of religious authority in Muslim societies is currently taking its shapes and characters. What is religious authority? Who has the right to speak for Islam in an authoritative manner? How is religious authority constructed, pluralized, and contested among Muslim actors, across times and places? To what extent, and in what ways, the social, economic, and political transformations of the last two-decades have influenced the (re)configuration of religious authority in many, different Muslim societies?

Below is list of the panels that we aim to organize. However, we also accept submission that is not related to them, but still within the ranges of the topic of religious authority.

  1. Ulama and other religious leaders in contemporary Muslim societies: fragmentation and competition
  2. The relationship between political and religious authority
  3. New media and religious authority: the rise of new Muslim actors
  4. Pluralizing authority, public Islam, and the impact of democracy and globalization
  5. New religious movements and their influences to the established institutions of authority
  6. Voices of the ordinary Muslims and the exploratory discourse of authority
  7. The relationship between gender and authority in contemporary Muslim Indonesia
  8. Changes in Islamic education and their impacts on the construction of authority
  9. Science, technology and their influences to the production of religious authority
  10. And other topics related to Islamic Studies.

Raden Intan International Conference on Muslim Societies and Social Sciences is organized by Rumah Jurnal dan Setra HKI Universitas Islam Negeri Raden Intan Lampung, INDONESIA.