Scholar of culture and language to visit Indiana University

22 April 2011
Report by Rosemary Pennington

“Language is normally taken for granted in everyday life as part of the banal or the quotidian,” says Professor Yasir Suleiman, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id Professor of Modern Arabic Studies and Fellow of King’s College at the University of Cambridge.

Suleiman says there are times when language isn’t taken for granted — like when it draws attention to itself through literature or failing school standards. And, says the scholar who has studied Arabic for decades, language helps shape who we are.

“Language,” Suleiman says, “is also important for who we think we are, as individuals or as members of social, ethnic or national groups.”

Language And Conflict

He says it’s also important to study and understand language in connection with conflict. That’s the topic of one of the talks he’ll be giving on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University next week.

Titled “Language, Conflict and Inter-Cultural (Mis)Communication” the Monday afternoon talk will examine symbolic meanings of language in connection to conflict management.

“I will use a variety of examples, with some images, from the Balkans, US and the Middle East to show how languages express conflict symbolically and instrumentally, and how the former (symbolism) can apply even when the latter (instrumentalism) seems to speak in a contrary voice,” Suleiman says.

“For the Symbolism I will concentrate mainly on street signs. For the latter, instrumentality, I will rely on analysis of the language of media reporting of Middle Eastern conflicts. I, therefore, hope that the lecture will appeal to multiple audiences.”

Contextualising British Islam

Suleiman’s second talk, scheduled for Wednesday, will be about a project he’s been working on exploring what it means to be a British Muslim today.

“The project was funded by the British government, through a competitive process, and it distills the findings of five symposia (each consisting of two days) that brought together Muslim scholars, Imams, social scientists and community activists to Cambridge to debate a set of issues, framed as questions, dealing with: secularism, citizenship, pluralism, the sharia, human rights and sexuality,” Suleiman says.

“I will be reporting on the findings of the project, which has now gone into a second phase, and on the challenges that faced it in the current climate of anti-Muslim feeling. I hope that the audience would be able to engage in a discussion that brings in American perspectives on these issues.”

Suleiman says he looks forward to engaging with researchers and students about his work while at IU. In addition to his two formal talks, Suleiman will also visit an undergraduate class.

His talk Monday is at 4:30 p.m. in the Maple Room of the Indiana Memorial Union. The Wednesday talk is at noon in the Bridgwaters Lounge of the Neal-Marshal Black Culture Center.

The Center for the Study of the Middle East, West European Studies, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Department of Linguistics and the Center for the Study of Global Change are responsible for bringing Suleiman to campus.

Read full article here (Muslim Voices)
Read more about Contextualising Islam in Britain.