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FOR well over a generation, the public sphere of Islam has been an arena of contest in which activists and militants brought forth challenges to traditional interpretative practices and authority to speak for Islam, especially to articulate its social interests and political agendas. Patrick Gaffney (1994) has astutely noted that their claims draw on social and political experience as alternatives both to expertise in textual hermeneutics associated with the learned men of Islam (ulema) and to more illuminationist priorities exemplified in Sufi and generally mystical ways. Opening the social field to new spokespeople and new discursive practices not only challenges authority long since thought settled to interpret what religion requires, but also blurs boundaries between pubic and private discourse and fosters new habits of production and consumption tied to media and particularly to new media. Ideas and issues circulated in intellectuals’ books a generation ago are now found in popular chapbooks (Gonzalez-Quijano, 1998) and on street-corner newsstands (Starrett, 1995); audiocassettes that carried sermons SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Fall 2003) New Media, New Publics: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere of Islam JON W. ANDERSON *This paper is based on research supported by grants from the United States Institute of Peace and the American Center for Oriental Research (Amman, Jordan). I am grateful for comments by participants in the Summer Institute on Public Spheres and Muslim Identities, sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at Dartmouth College in August 2002, on an earlier formulation of some of the ideas presented in this paper. I would also like to thank Yves Gonzalez-Quijano, Dale F. Eickelman, Michael C. Hudson, and Bruce Lawrence for their comments over the years that we have shared some of these interests. of then-exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini into prerevolutionary Iran (Sreberny-Mohammadi and Mohammadi, 1994) likewise by the 1990s carried sermons by popular preachers into taxicabs and shops, altering listening habits (Hirschkind, 2001) as much as ulema delivering fatwas (religious opinions) on callin radio and television shows have transformed a highly interactive format for personalized answers into one more resembling publication (Messick, 1996), however ephemeral. This is an expanding social field characterized by more than contested authority and by more than proliferating voices or blurred boundaries; central to this expanding public sphere of Islam are new media and interest profiles they advance. Media figure in this process in several crucial respects. First, they devolve access to consumption by more people on more occasions. Passage into media conveys previously “private” or highly situated discourses from interactive contexts to public display, where they are reattached to a public world and return as information conveyed through new media technologies with different habits of reception. Detached from traditional modes of production, they become messages in a world of messages. But more important, media are themselves complex social fields and activities. Analyses of print (for example, Messick, 1993; Meeker, 1991 and 1994) note an officialization of discourse that moves into print; programs to Islamize knowledge, science, and politics generally pursue entextualization strategies to recast those subjects in Islamic vocabularies with modern arguments. Entextualization puts discourse before authorities whose stock in trade are texts and textual methods from grammar and techniques of reading to portable testaments of authorization (jawaz) to interpret. And entextualization lays claims to participate in the spaces in which discourse is so conducted. Twentieth-century Islamists not only—in some cases, not even—sermonized; they wrote, often prolifically, as in the cases of Mohammed Rashid Ridah and Maulana Maududdi, 888 SOCIAL RESEARCH whose roots were in journalism but whose goals were to recast religious discourse. Increasingly, electronic communication is also moving Islamic discourse into the marketplace and aligning its practices, range of choice, and alternatives both metaphorically and literally with additional means to service those demands. Local media have been joined by satellite broadcasters, cassettes by the Internet, each enabling new voices to gather new audiences. Like print before it, forms of electronic communication move Islamic discourse beyond the classical language of texts into contemporary vernaculars and involve new actors, sites of production, and consumption where audiocassettes are also a medium for folk music and poetry (Manuel, 1993), much of it religious (Qureshi, 1995); satellite television not only...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 887-906
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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