SUMMARY:As an hadith or as a trope, the expression “the faith of the old women of Nishapur” recurs in many Islamic theological and mystical writings that address questions of knowledge. The expression singles out a specific modality of approaching Islam, though scholars vary widely in what they attribute to the old women. Some scholars use the expression to refer to an experiential or embodied relationship to tradition, others to one predicated on imitative or limited understanding. Some single out women as a social category, or their age and residence in Nishapur, the renowned center of learning. Others use the expression as a broad term that also encompasses people of the desert and other groups. Some dismiss the faith of the old women. Others praise it as the ultimate form of religiosity. In critical conversation with the work of anthropologist Talal Asad who has also commented on the expression, this interdisciplinary roundtable addresses the gendered character of the “faith of the old women of Nishapur” and explores the possibilities and limits of this formulation. Participants will read a selection of passages referring to the old women in Juwayni, Ghazzali, Ibn Taymiyya and others to reflect on the relationship between gender and knowledge: what is at stake in endowing women with a differential relationship to Islam and therefore to life? What does this designation say about the “subject who is supposed to know”? And what do knowing and not-knowing mean? We will discuss the different forms of religiosity and understanding that the texts assign to the old women, the bodily and intellectual capacities they attribute or deny them, the evolving use of gendered tropes, the historical context in which the texts were written and their current reverberations, establishing resonances and frictions between eleventh century Nishapur and twenty first century Montreal. The workshop aims to foster intellectual exchanges between different ways of approaching Islam, and encourages interdisciplinary dialogues between philology, history, anthropology, literary and religious studies. Overcoming the divide between textual and contextual readings, between philological exactitude and conceptual concerns, between past and present, the workshop aims at posing a set of fundamental questions about Islam, gender, embodiment, knowledge, tradition and religion more generally.
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