Research

My research focuses on Islamic activism, charity and social justice, engaging with intellectual debates about secularism and the relationship between rationality and faith, as well as with questions of hegemony.

While faith is not supposed to inform our theories about science, society and politics, in reality it plays a role in all aspects of human relations. Understanding this contradiction is one of the main goals of my work. I believe this predicament has arisen because the Western experience has fostered a conception of rationality and faith as two very different and often mutually exclusive ways of seeing and knowing oneself and the world. Over time the social and scientific developments in Western societies have taught us to privilege the rational character of modern life. Thus we find ourselves in a position where we believe that societies must adopt a particular kind of rationality in order to be considered modern, where rationality is associated with maximizing output, efficiency, neutrality, and the ability to be separated, categorized and easily communicated. Here religion is conceptually privatized and this ultimately leads to the marginalization of faith in our theoretical frameworks for understanding the world.

My work is informed by recent debates about the secular and the modern, including the philosophical interventions by Talal Asad, Charles Taylor, Jürgen Habermas and Judith Butler, as well as the empirical work of Saba Mahmood and Lara Deeb. I argue that one result of this “separation” between rationality and faith is the normalization of Western secular ideas and practices, and the stigmatization of other ways of knowing and being. Western thinkers adopt this framework to frame Islamic societies as irrational and against modernity, ultimately producing and reproducing the Western hegemonic project.

This leads to my second intellectual endeavor: a practical engagement with the complex conceptual framework Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci developed to think about hegemony, politics and power. Gramsci sought to understand how people willingly consent to forms of domination through the coercive power of ideas. He suggested that the struggle for hegemony is ongoing and plays out in civil society. A bloc secures hegemony by articulating the ideas and beliefs of common sense, or the repertoire of popular culture, in ways that resonate with the populace but mobilizes them in new directions. Thus through a Gramscian lens I view Islamic movements as potentially transformative political projects. In my doctoral dissertation I explore how the charitable institutions affiliated with Shi’i movements in Lebanon promote a culture of resistance against various forms of oppression.

My research adds an empirical dimension to these philosophical debates about the secular and the modern, bringing in the voices of pious Muslims and charity workers who strive for social justice today. It also adds to debates about hegemony by helping to illustrate the ways in which Islamic movements are deliberately integrating rationality and faith in a self-conscious challenge to the hegemonic ideas and practices of Western secular modernity.


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