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For the past four years, Social Research has engaged in an international exploration into the subject of privacy by organizing three conferences dedicated to the subject. We took this—for us—unusual step of organizing multiple conferences on the same theme, because the concept of privacy, and what constitutes a threat to privacy, is entirely socially constructed, and as such is contingent on a particular culture. Thus, a full understanding of what “privacy” means demanded cross-cultural explorations. Special issues of Social Research based on papers from the first two privacy conferences have already appeared. The initial conference on privacy was held at the New School University in October 2000, and the issue containing its proceedings was published in spring 2001 (vol. 68, no. 1). This was followed by a second conference, organized in cooperation with the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary , which is where the conference was held in March 2001. The second conference explored the subject of privacy in postcommunist Europe, and was designed to explore conceptions of privacy that prevailed in the Central and East European communist world and those that have emerged during this transition period. The issue based on this conference appeared in spring 2002 (vol. 69, no. 1). Since the concepts of public and private are central to the relationship between religion and state, as well the development of civil society, and are also key to defining the boundaries between the state, the community, the family, and the individual, the privacy project was incomplete without some exploration of the concept of privacy in the Islamic world. In December 2002 we held a third privacy conference on Islam: The Public and Private Spheres. The conference, which took place at New School University, explored the concept of privacy in several of the many vibrant Muslim societies worldwide (both Shi’a and Sunni), and the present issue contains the conference proceedings. Together, the three conferences and issues begin to paint a portrait of how this essential social distinction between public and private has played out and is playing out in very different settings, and provides a sense of why the distinction is central to the ways in which societies are organized and controlled. Arien Mack Editor Editor’s Introduction ...


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