International Conference Honors the Legacy of Clifford Geertz
A photographic exhibition focusing on Sefrou, Morocco, highlights the work of Paul Hyman
Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The Photographs of Paul Hyman will be exhibited in conjunction with the conference. Forty-two compelling images that Hyman made during a four-month stay in 1969 will be on display at the Fowler Museum from November 28 through December 16
A four-day international conference, Islam Re-Observed: Clifford Geertz in Morocco, to be held December 6-9, 2007, at UCLA, will consider the work of the eminent anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1926-2006) in Morocco. Organized by CNES Director Susan Slyomovics and Visiting Professor Lahouari Addi from the University of Lyon, the conference will examine Geertz's fieldwork and writings about Morocco, and his formative influence on social scientists from the Maghrib (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) and on American anthropologists of North Africa. Geertz's contributions to sociocultural theory and symbolic anthropology will be discussed in relation to Islam, ideas of the sacred, Morocco's cityscapes (notably Sefrou's bazaar or suq), colonialism and economic development, and gender and political structures at the household and village levels.
"When Geertz began his research in 1950s Indonesia and 1960s Morocco, Islam was not an important topic for anthropological inquiry," said Slyomovics. Consequently, the publication of his 1968 work, Islam Observed, had an immense impact in the US. When it was translated into French in 1992, and thereby introduced into North Africa a quarter of a century after its English publication, it reverberated with renewed force as a new generation of Maghribi-born and -trained scholars began to engage productively with Geertz and symbolic anthropology.
Over the course of his academic career, Geertz emphasized his scholarly preoccupation to reorient the social sciences away from the formulation and rigorous testing of hypotheses; rather, he looked to the interpretation of empirical materials influenced by philosophical categories. For Geertz, Islam was always present, never expelled from North African Muslim-majority societies by modernity, acculturation, and secularization, as many positivist researchers claimed.
The conference will explore Geertzian and post-Geertzian interpretations of religious attitudes in Muslim societies as they are analyzed by North African scholars concerned with mysticism, secularized piety, Islamic reforms, and most importantly, religious faith as a contemporary social force, which Geertz well understood to be a primary focus of anthropological inquiry. Scholars will present aspects of current scholarship by North African social scientists and explore the ways in which this scholarship reflects a Geertzian approach to Islam as a religion and to the Islamic city as a dynamic expressive semiotic system. In one session in particular, Geertz's contemporaries in Morocco — a co-author and former students — will assess the implications of propositions that Geertz explored in 1968 in Islam Observed in terms of the present course of Islam.
Sefrou, Morocco Observed: The Photographs of Paul Hyman will be exhibited in conjunction with the conference. Forty-two compelling images that Hyman made during a four-month stay in 1969 will be on display at the Fowler Museum from November 28 through December 16, offering a telling contrast with present-day Morocco and a fascinating record of anthropological research at a particular period in time. Situated in the foothills of north-central Morocco where the Middle Atlas Mountains meet the western plains, Sefrou was the site of decades-long research carried out by American anthropologists Clifford and Hildred Geertz, Paul Rabinow, Lawrence Rosen, Thomas Dichter, and others, beginning in the mid-sixties. The photographic exhibition features many images of Sefrou's lively suq (bazaar), as well as people and places in other parts of the city and in the nearby village of Sidi Lahcen. The exhibition showcases several color images never before published or displayed.
Additional information on the conference program and the photo exhibition: