Saturday 8 November 2008

The cosmopolitanism of Hamid Dabashi

Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi is an intellectual omnivore I heard recently speak at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. He was the keynote speaker at the launch of the newly established Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication. Currently he holds the Hagop Kevorkian chair in Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Aside from his literary studies, his interests straddle the history of Shi'a Islam, Sufism, Islamic philosophy, the intellectual history of Iran, and Iranian cinema and theatre, especially the cineast Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

I am reading his Iran: A People Interrupted. Critical of the prevailing tendency to see tradition and modernity as an oppositional relationship, he argues that this is only applicable to what he calls 'colonial modernity'. As an alternative, Dabashi suggests a cosmopolitan approach,which transcends the modernity vs. tradition binary. For this reason, Dabashi can be considered as belonging to the 'new Iranian intellectuals described by Farhad Khosrokhavar (and also discussed in my posting of 16 September 2008). But I believe it places him also in conversation with scholars firmly rooted in the Western academe, like Ulrich Beck, whose Cosmopolitan Visionadvocates a 'realistic cosmopolitanism', building on his concept of 'second modernity' or 'reflexive modernity', which had developed in earlier publications, like Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity and Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order.

Aside from these scholarly interests, Dabashi is what Gramsci called an 'organic intellectual', with strong opinions about other matters affecting the Muslim world. When expressing his views on the Question of Palestine, for example, his feelings about the grave injustices surrounding this difficult issue led him to making such passionate statements that he got into trouble with the other camp. Thus he was once deemed worthy of a personal attack by the Neo-Conservative commentator(demagogue?) on things Islamic, Daniel Pipes, who called him 'Columbia's Hysterical Professor'

His most recent publication is Islamic Liberation Theology: Resisting the Empire. For a more detailed impression of his research interests and publications, visit his personal website.

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