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Audiotapes, videoblogs and Muslim leadership

April 21, 2009

Announcement from Sigurjon Hafsteinsson, EASA Media Anthropology Network, via the Network’s mailing list:

Between 28 April – 12 May 2009 we will discuss Dr. Nabil Echchaibi (University of Colorado-Boulder) paper “From Audiotapes to Videoblogs: the Delocalization of Authority in Islam.”  Dr. Emilio Spadola (Colgate University) will act as discussant. […]

Abstract

Today, a new breed of charismatic and media savvy religious figures are reinvigorating internal debates on Islam by drawing large audiences across the Muslim world and the Muslim diaspora in the West. Using satellite media, websites, blogs, and videoblogs, these new religious celebrities are changing the nature of debate in Islam from a doctrinaire discourse to a practical discussion that focuses on individual enterprise as a spiritual quest. These leaders themselves have become religious entrepreneurs with sophisticated networks of message distribution and media presence. From Amr Khaled and Moez Masood, two leading figures of Arab Islamic entertainment television, to Baba Ali, a famous Muslim videoblogger from California, Islam has never been better marketable. Satellite television and the Internet are becoming fertile discursive spaces where not only religious meanings are reconfigured but also new Islamic experiences are mediated transnationally. This delocalization of Islamic authority beyond the traditional sources of Egypt and Saudi Arabia is generating new producers and locales of religious meaning in Dubai, London, Paris, and Los Angeles. This article examines the impact of celebrity religious figures and their new media technologies on the relativization of authority in Islam and the emergence of a cosmopolitan transnational audience of Muslims. I ask if this transnational and seemingly apolitical effort is generating a new form of religious nationalism that devalues the importance of national loyalties.

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