What Secular Space?: The Met Hedges Muslim

Ashley Baxstrom: If you’re in New York (and if you’re not, come), head over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and check out their New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia. November 1 marked the grand reopening of 15 enlarged, reconceived and renovated galleries of what the Museum touts as one of the world’s best and most comprehensive collections of Islamic art.

Museum Director Thomas P. Campbell says the exhibit “trace[s] the course of Islamic civilization over a span of 13 centuries, from the Middle East to North Africa, Europe, and Central and South Asia. This new geographic orientation signals a revised perspective on this important collection, recognizing that the monumentality of Islam did not create a single, monolithic artistic expression, but instead connected a vast geographic expanse through centuries of change and cultural influence.” Continue Reading →

Shamed Media: News Corp, the Sacred and the Profane

by Gordon Lynch

One of the striking features of the current crisis engulfing News International is the prevalence of religious language. There is talk of News of the World, including all of its former staff, having been offered as a sacrifice, and speculation whether Rebekah Brooks, Chief Executive of News International, should have been offered up instead. The former editor of the News of the World, Colin Myler, spoke last week to his staff about the need to atone for the past. More widespread than this is the language of pollution; of shame, of people feeling sickened and appalled at abhorrent actions, of those implicated in those acts as being less than human.

When we see the language of pollution being used in the public domain, along with powerful moral sentiment driving public opinion, we know that we are witnessing the acting out of cultural sensibilities concerning the sacred and the profane.  By ‘sacred’ here I do not mean a simple synonym for ‘religion’ or some kind of universal mystical experience. Rather, the sacred refers to what people experience as realities that have an unquestionable moral claim over social life, and which are perpetually under threat of destruction or pollution by the evil of the profane. Although their content varies across different times and places, cultural structures of the sacred and profane have been used to mark the moral boundaries of human society for millennia. Continue Reading →