Global Genealogies of Modernity Recap
Last week concluded an excellent and stimulating third Genealogies of Modernity Seminar. From June 16th to the 21st, fifteen graduate participants and six faculty members from a wide variety of disciplines including Art History, Religious Studies, History and Sociology of Science, Philosophy, Islamic Studies, and Theology joined together for a week of serious discussion on the theme of Global Genealogies of Modernity.
On Monday, Prof. Ryan McDermott provided us an overview of the project and gave us a provocation of ways of thinking with the seminar’s three key terms: the global, the genealogical, and the modern. We compared the genealogical approaches of Foucault and Biblical genealogy while entertaining the possibility of thinking of the modern as what Stephanie Engelstein calls “sibling action.” Prof. Carla Nappi opened a field of inquiry into forms of historical writing that included the questions of voice, fiction, and queer archives, organized around the participants’ responses to a variety of unconventional forms of academic writing, including Vilém Flusser’s cryptozoological work Vampyroteuthis Infernalis.
Tuesday began with a lecture by Prof. Rizwan Zamir that offered a genealogical account of various responses from scholars and faith leaders to the question of modernity in Islam. In reflecting on the conclusion of Hamilton Gibb’s “The Heritage of Islam in the Modern World,” he drew our attention to the reality of “inner divisions” in Islamic studies and Gibb’s opinion that there “can be no resolution of these inner divisions, therefore, until there is unification, intercourse, and contact which is creative and not merely superficial at the level of higher education.” From this followed a lively discussion of what it means to be in “the house of Islam” (dar al-Islam) which became a thematic for the rest of the week’s discussions. In the afternoon, Prof. Anna Bonta-Moreland provided us three distinct genealogies that contested Mark Lilla’s argument in “The Politics of God” that a complacent liberalism has failed to meet a politics of renewed messianism. Her session explored Christianity of the Global South and the ways its growth in places like Latin America and Africa is shifting the narrative of religious decline.
Wednesday morning provided a change of pace as Prof. Nappi led us in an examination of student-produced writing. The afternoon involved a field trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, led by art historian, Prof. Chris Nygren. Our interaction with the museum in small groups included a reflection on the museological presentation of Rogier van der Weyden’s Crucifixion Diptych and the invention of racial knowledge with castas paintings from Spanish colonies in light of our readings from, among others, Walter Mignolo’s The Darker Side of the Renaissance and Nagle and Wood’s Anachronic Renaissance.
Prof. Stan Chu Ilo closed the faculty presentations on Thursday morning with a thought-provoking lecture on competing genealogies of “African modernity” woven through his analysis of the readings and personal reflections on his experiences as the son of a tribal chief and a priest studying in Rome. We continued our discussion of being “in” or “outside” the house by thinking with V. Y. Mudimbe’s incredibly rich The Invention of Africa, which distinguishes two types of ethnocentrism, an “epistemological filiation” that makes a field of knowledge possible and the “ideological connection” that projects one’s own categories as a description of other fields of knowledge.
Friday ended the week on an exciting note as seminar participants offered their own presentations of how the week’s readings and discussions had inchoately affected their thought on their own research. Stay tuned: some of these presentations will appear here as blog posts!