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Wednesday, June 01, 2022

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David Fearn Inaugural Professorial Lecture: The Future of the Lyric Encounter
FAB 5.01-03.

This is a lecture about Greek lyric poetry. But what do we think this even is, and how should we frame this question? Moreover, how do we understand not simply what it is, but what it does, and might do, both now and in the future? What are the stakes of its persistence?

I briefly explore a range of ways in which thinking with ancient lyric texts alongside some strands of comparative literature, critical theory, and philosophy helps us to understand afresh and continue to articulate our commitments – now, and for the future – to, these ancient, remote, shards of expression. I will illustrate my talk with excerpts of ancient lyric texts – taken from Pindar and Sappho – that seem alternatively to model, or challenge, our own absorption into their realms of experience.

What are the stakes of such absorption for our own self-understanding? And how best might we situate Greek lyric poetry within comparative spaces – beyond familiar scholarly frameworks of ancient politics or religion or social life - to continue to insist upon the nature of its challenges, and with what consequences? How, indeed, might such reflection help us to assess the challenges that make being a Classicist a matter of continuing controversy and fascination?

Please RSVP for catering purposes here.

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Research seminar: Nadia Kiwan (Aberdeen) and Jim Wolfreys (KCL), Islamophobia in France
Teams
Nadia Kiwan: Decolonial approaches to laïcité as a mode to re-think contemporary Islamophobia

This paper argues that in order to better understand how political Islamophobia functions in contemporary French society, we need to examine how Islam is simultaneously constructed as a ‘problem’ for laïcité as well as being its beneficiary. This contradictory configuration whereby Islam and by extension, French Muslims are seen to be outside the regime of political secularism embodied by laïcité as well as being enabled by that same regime is premised on two dominant understandings of laïcité. The first dominant conception of laïcité argues that it is based on the strict separation of public and private sphere and that religious identity does not or should not have a political sense; that religious faith is a private or individual matter (Roy 2005). A second dominant conception of laïcité argues that French political secularism, as embodied in the 1905 law of separation between the Church and State protects freedom of conscience, just as much as it circumscribes it. However, in both these approaches to laïcité, there is an unspoken assumption that there is some sort of anterior ‘pure’ laïc ideal, which simply needs to be recovered and reinforced or in the case of the second, ‘laïcité falsifiée’ narrative (Baubérot 2014), needs to be ‘knocked back into shape’. In both cases, the emblematic date of 1905 and the various articles of the separation law are seen to present the template for rehabilitating laïcité. However, this paper argues that a decolonial approach to laïcité is necessary to uncover how Islamophobia is enabled by discourses invoking the need to uphold a political principle which emerged at the height of French imperialism. A decolonial approach to the concept of secularism would fundamentally deconstruct the idea that laïcité is a stable, equality-bearing framework on the one hand and that religious minorities are the “problem” on the other.

Nadia Kiwan is Professor of French and Francophone Studies at the University of Aberdeen, UK. Her research interests focus on public discourses about postcolonial migration, secularism and Islam as well as decolonial and intersectional social movements. She is author of Secularism, Islam and public intellectuals in contemporary France (Manchester University Press 2019).

Jim Wolfreys: The Macron presidency and the sanctification of Islamophobia

Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election was heralded as a triumph of progressive European liberalism over the forces of reactionary nationalism. Macron located himself at the centre of ‘a new global humanist project’ and spoke out against drawing up more laws to ‘hunt down’ those who wore the hijab. Government ministers later denounced the ‘veil’ as something undesirable in society, attacked supermarkets for fostering ‘communitarianism’ by dedicating shelves to halal or kosher food, and condemned universities as hotbeds of ‘Islamo-leftism’ and ‘intersectionality’ contributing to the fragmentation of society and boosting Islamist terror. This paper attempts to explain this trajectory by assessing claims that Macronism is a response to the inability of a neoliberal economic platform to secure a stable electoral base within the confines of the left-right divide in France (Amable and Palombarini), that his presidency is emblematic of the era of ‘post-ideological neo-liberalism’, and that its Islamophobia is therefore a function of political expediency rather than any ideological evolution (Traverso). To do so it locates the Islamophobic turn of the Macron presidency within the context of the reactionary radicalisation of mainstream French politics, persistent and widespread resistance to any serious reckoning with France’s history of slavery and colonialism, and the role of Republican universalism in hampering efforts to develop an effective anti-racist response to Islamophobia.

Jim Wolfreys is Reader in French and European Politics at King’s College London. His publications include Republic of Islamophobia: The Rise of Respectable Racism in France (Hurst 2018) and The Politics of Racism in France, co-authored with Peter Fysh (Palgrave, 2003).

To join the seminar on Teams click here.