Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Anthropology, Harvard University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 1999
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Chicago
Blasphemy and the Dialectics of Mediation: A Proposed Study of Courts, Conflict, and the Media in Contemporary Pakistan

This project seeks to investigate how Pakistan's blasphemy laws have becomes the site of contestation between liberals and lslamists over the country's raison d'etre. Blasphemy accusations, to liberals, conjure up images of an intolerant past and exemplify the retrogressive nature of religious politics. In the liberal imagination blasphemy represents the negation of reason, progress, and civilization. lslamists, however, argue that the blasphemy laws symbolize the unity of a Muslim community, and that instances of blasphemy are affronts to faith, the nation and sunder the dream of an Islamic utopia. They insist that the only punishment for blasphemy is death. Thus liberals and lslamists represent themselves as two oppositional ontologies. The consequent polarization of debate has led to a great deal of violence. lslamists murder their opponents, and liberals rarely protest when the state replies in a similar vein. My theses is that the apparent opposition of these groups occludes important commonalties. Consequently the first step is to explore how these 'differences' get produced. I suggest that this occurs during blasphemy trials at two institutional sites - the courts and the media. By concentrating on court cases and their attendant media dissemination I will endeavor to explore the constitution of these opposed epistemologies, and of the subjects that enunciate them. I suggest that the fact that both groups emphasize the law as the means of transforming society indicates that it is a conjunction of Islam, modernity, and the post-colonial state which makes 'fundamentalism' possible.