Dr. Ermin Sinanović, the Director of the Summer Institute for Scholars presented an overview of the program ahead for the next week and a half. Twelve outstanding papers were selected from among submissions in response to the call for papers for the program. These will be presented during panel sessions throughout the coming week which are designed to offer more time for in depth discussion than is typically found in conferences. Additionally, the Summer Institute for Scholars will be highlighting a series of lectures by scholars that will supplement the debate and conversation. The program will further provide the capstone experience for the IIIT Summer Students program. These students who have been intensively engaging in daily studies and research in the weeks leading up to the Summer Institute for Scholars will be participating in the full proceedings of the conference and will be presenting their own research to their peers and attending scholars in the second week of the program.
Following the welcome and overview of the schedule, Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina took the group to the topic of focus and set the tone through his own reflections. While the Arab Spring started with great expectations and hopes for reform and change, the unfolding experience shows that this is not possible without the leadership of Islamic intellectuals working with their communities to address problems and challenges. Dr. Sachedina emphasized the need for change from within and that the Islamic Sources have not yet been engaged as a source for guiding the ethics of politics. More frequently, he mentioned, Islamic sources are used with superficial readings as a tool for putting down opposition. The challenge that Dr. Sachedina presents for reformers is to re-engage the Islamic Sources for inspiration and ethical guidance, to have constructive conversations, not devolve into antagonistic rhetoric, and to look towards developing a “Jurisprudence of Co-existence.”
The opening of the program then featured a keynote address by Prof. John Voll of Georgetown University, on “Pop-politics and Elections: Islam and Democracy after the Arab Spring.” His remarks looked at the Arab Spring in relation to other historical movements, noting where the message has been heard before, but also looking at the methods and current context that make the Arab Spring something new. The 1960’s was presented as one other instance where there was great hope and expectation for change throughout the Arab world, with similar rhetoric of social justice and reform. However, the methods for respectable movements have changed over the decades: While the 1960’s featured marches, after which people went home, we are now in the era of ‘occupy’ movements, which take over physical space and feature tents. The role of social media and technology also makes the Arab Spring context different from the past, as it introduces new language, and also has sifted the nature of movements away from strategic planning by a few, and messaging by elites, to unprecedented involvement by the masses.
The opening program lead immediately to stimulating discussion that promises the coming days will be full of profound insights, reflection and debates. Summaries of lectures and proceedings will be posted as the program continues and IIIT will be publishing a volume in the future featuring the scholars’ papers.