[P4761] Islam and the State in Egypt: An Institution-Centered Approach

Created by Aaron Rock-Singer
Monday, 11/20/17 8:00am


In 1998, Gregory Starrett published Putting Islam to Work, a groundbreaking study on the role of a seemingly unlikely “religious” institution –the Ministry of Education –in producing particular understandings of Islam in Egypt between the late nineteenth and late twentieth centuries. While Starrett’s study has been cited repeatedly in subsequent scholarship on Islamism and Secularism alike, these studies have only engaged in limited fashion with this work’s most significant question: how specific government bodies produce a particular religious vision as part of a constellation of internally diverse and ideological competitive institutions that are often glossed as the Egyptian state. This panel will therefore explore the relationship between religion, politics and state institutions through an in-depth analysis of the varied religious bodies that comprise the Egyptian state

To answer these questions, the panel’s four participants will tell a story of the religious contestation that undergirds the increasingly powerful role played by state institutions during the twentieth and twenty first centuries. The first paper sets the scene for the rest of the panel by outlining the emergence of state-controlled religious institutions in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Egypt. It outlines not only the tools that regimes deploy to direct state religious bodies, but also the techniques by which those bodies retain autonomy. The second paper reframes interwar Egyptian debates about Islam as a “culture war” between Europhile modernists and their Islamist and ‘Ulama’ opponents by examining the role of Dar al-‘Ulum in training state-employed teachers, school inspectors, and bureaucrats who would then shape the colonial and post-colonial Egyptian educational system. Moving from teacher training to book censorship, the third paper will examine the religious censorship policies of the early Mubarak period, with a particular focus on the censorship of the sermons of the firebrand Islamist preacher ‘Abd al-Hamid Kishk (d. 1999). Finally, the fourth paper will explore the semi-formal network of classes (majalis ‘ilmiyya) at and around the Azhar mosque in contemporary Cairo with an eye to what the debates and critiques that animate the majalis reveal about the relationship between religion and politics in Sisi’s Egypt. A focus on the diverse institutions that define Islam within the Egyptian state thus enables us to move beyond monolithic depictions of the state’s religious policies and to assess the role of state institutions in shaping the relationship between religion and politics in the Middle East more broadly.






Nathan J. Brown

(George Washington University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Hilary Kalmbach

(University of Sussex)
Hilary Kalmbach holds a Lectureship (Assist/Assoc. Professor) in the History Department at University of Sussex. Her research focuses on culture, art, and religion in the Arabic-speaking countries of the Middle East and North Africa, with particular attention...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Gregory Starrett

(UNC Charlotte)
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant;

Aaron Rock-Singer

(Cornell University)
Aaron Rock-Singer is a social and intellectual historian of Islam and the Modern Middle East. He received his B.A from the University of Pennsylvania (2007), his M.Phil from St. Antony’s College, Oxford (2010) and his Ph.D from Princeton’s Department...
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Mary Elston

(Harvard University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;