Author to lecture on revolutionary movements in Middle East
Macalester College sociologist Khaldoun Samman to speak May 4 at WCSU

DANBURY, CONN. Dr. Khaldoun Samman, author of two recent books on the clash between secular and Islamic identities, will discuss “Revolutionary Movements in the Middle East” in a lecture on Wednesday, May 4, at Western Connecticut State University.

Samman, an associate professor of sociology at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., will speak at 2 p.m. in the Student Center Theater on the university’s Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury. Admission will be free and the public is invited to attend. A book-signing session will follow the talk.

A native of Jordan who was raised in the United States, Samman earned a bachelor’s degree at George Washington University and a Ph.D. in sociology from the State University of New York at Binghamton. In 2002 he joined the faculty of the sociology department at Macalester College, where he heads the interdepartmental program in Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Civilization.

Samman’s work, “The Clash of Modernities: The Islamist Challenge to Jewish, Turkish and Arab Nationalism,” published in December 2010, offers a comparative analysis of Western perspectives on world history and how they have influenced approaches to modernization in the Middle East. The book abstract published on the Macalester College website noted that Samman argues “the West produced a temporal narrative of world history in which it placed itself on top and all others below.” His analysis describes “how the colonizer’s judgment of the Middle East and its people — where Arab, Muslim, Turk and Jew were seen as ‘behind’ European and Western civilization — was both strategically revised and problematically reproduced by Turkish Kemalism, Israeli Zionism, Arab nationalism and Islamism,” the abstract said.

“Samman challenges Eurocentric theorists who peddle the ‘clash of civilization’ thesis by demonstrating that this clash involves not civilizational differences, but rather a number of modernist discourses that are all trapped in a tradition that has its origins in colonial modernity,” the abstract added.

Samman also is the author of “Cities of God and Nationalism: Mecca, Jerusalem and Rome as Contested World Cities,” published in 2007. His biographical notes on the Macalester College website described the book’s central theme as “the controversial thesis that modernity, far from bringing in an age of tolerance, creates the social bases of exclusion.

“The central thesis of the book is that our real problem is the rigid conceptions of national spaces and peoples that have recently been forced upon these sacred spaces,” the website notes added. “The book uses three major sacred cities to explore how modernity, through the apparatus of nationalism and the nation-state, redefined our constructs of self and other in fundamental ways, having major implications for the way Rome, Mecca and Jerusalem are conceived by the inhabitants of the world who identify with them.”

In an interview posted on “The Weave” alternative media blog, Samman expressed concern at what he perceives as a widening gulf of cultural misunderstanding caused by Western observers who seek to interpret all aspects of Islamic society and politics through the narrow lens of cultural stereotypes.

“It reduces the critical nature of our political imagination by focusing on cultural difference as the root of the issue, and leaves untouched the issues of occupation, imperialism and social injustice,” he said. Citing the example of U.S. involvement in Iraq, he asserted that an overemphasis on cultural differences yields a “superficial and ideological worldview that tries to reduce all explanations of ‘what went wrong’ in Iraq as a product of a time-immemorial culture of the Arabs that can or cannot be civilized or modernized,” while ignoring “anything the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq did to them.”

For more information, call Associate Professor of Sociology Dr. Carina Bandhauer at bandhauerc@wcsu.edu or (203) 837-8650.

 
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