Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Michigan

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, New York University (NYU)
Virtuous Viewing: A Cultural Analysis of Islamic Televangelism in Egypt

In recent years the Arab satellite sector has seen the emergence of several Islamic “televangelical” channels boasting a viewership numbering in the tens of millions. Located within a regional landscape marked by economic neo-liberalization, continued political repression, and a three-decade strong “Islamic Revival,” Islamic satellite channels are the newest entrants into the increasingly diverse field of dawa (Islamic outreach) in the Arab Middle East. Funded by Saudi entrepreneurs and staffed by Egyptian producers, these televangelical channels seek to broadcast transnationally an “Islamic entertainment” that can compete with dominant secular media for viewers in the region and beyond. My dissertation project explores how media producers working for two Islamic televangelical channels headquartered in Cairo, Egypt’s capital, 1) understand, produce and circulate Islamically-correct media, and 2) imagine a pious transnational audience of Muslims who are supposed to see the televangelical channels as a “safe haven” in an overwhelmingly “morally corrupt” satellite realm. This project thus raises broader theoretical questions about the role new media technologies play in shaping religious dispositions and sensibilities as well as asking how existing religious practices influence the ways in which such technologies are taken up. It also asks about the specific sensory formations underwriting ideas of “virtuous viewing” within Islamic contexts. At a time when cultural discourses of “authenticity” and “purity” are gaining increasing purchase within the Muslim world, this research also sheds light on the heterogeneity and porosity of self-declared “Islamic media.” Indeed, by situating Islamic televangelism as a rich site of creativity, visual pleasure and moral discipline, this research will contribute to on-going theorizations of the nexus of religion, new media and globalizing processes.