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Islam and Christianity at the UO

As evidenced by the infamous anti-Islam video that attracted a whirlwind of attention after it was alleged to have been linked to the Benghazi embassy riots in September, religion continues to remain a touchy subject these days. For Saba Mahmood, a professor of anthropology at UC-Berkeley, it’s a topic that she hopes to understand more clearly through her studies of religious issues in Egypt.

On Nov. 2, Mahmood will visit the UO and discuss her research in honor of the university’s Department of Comparative Literature, which turns 50 this year. Currently, Mahmood is examining the status of non-Muslim minorities in the Middle East. Her keynote lecture for the anniversary celebration will explore the Egyptian novel Azazel, which was translated into 20 languages and won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, but met adversity when orthodox Christians in Egypt took offense to its Islam-centric contents and tried to ban the book. 

Mahmood says this case is comparable to similar upsets in Western culture, when religious groups react to criticism or mocking of their religion.

“We tend to think, ‘Oh, these are just religiously sensitive people who can’t stand American commitment to freedom of expression,’” Mahmood says. “But we can’t say that this is simply religious anger. We need to try to understand the serious nature of their objection, and unless we begin to do this, we will continue to engage in incomprehensible chatter which reinforces our prejudices against each other.”

Mahmood’s lecture, “Secular Humanism and Religious Conflict: Muslim-Christian Debates in Egypt,” is open to the public as part of the three-day celebration for the UO’s Department of Comparative Literature, which has the distinction of being the oldest comparative literature program on the West Coast. The lecture starts at 4 pm Friday, Nov. 2, in 182 Lillis Hall, followed by a reception at the Papé Reception Hall in the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.