|The Center for the Study of Gender & Culture is an independent, globally linked academic research institution that seeks to open and encourage a space for critical understanding of culture and meaningful intercultural engagement. To this end, the Center is committed to processes of education, research and dialogue in the humanities in general, and on gender and religion in particular. |
|The Center for the Study of Gender & Culture aims to be a leading institution for
research, education and dialogue on culture. The Center has been formed by a group of scholars in Pakistan to
open, encourage and preserve a space for critical understanding of multiple, intersecting crises in this moment
of global history. These crises span the state of our environment, tensions and contradictions within the body
politic, the spread of religious extremism and violence, and the breakdown of inter-cultural dialogue. Our
engagement is energized by the sense that these crises extend deeper than only the symptoms evident, despite
the serious extent of these symptoms themselves. We believe trends and patterns may be best seen as indicators
of a subtext of more profound, invisible concerns. The Center is driven by a need to continuously seek deeper
understanding of these concerns, in order to lead to more workable, grounded perspectives.|
|Modernity and Culture|
|Our vision stems partly from a postcolonial perspective, recognizing that both the analysis of issues and their solutions in the dominant mainstream are functions of received models of progress, modernity, and development. However, abstracted, generalized models evolved in a particular context (Western European) do not automatically apply universally. Where these models have been applied in a postcolonial context, for instance in South Asia, they often create tensions. Dominant perspectives in social sciences and humanities often derive from orientalist frameworks, and may not always be best suited to analysis and engagement in a specific, postcolonial context. Rather, creative use of local traditions/ idioms (often un-translatable or non-generalizable) is needed to engage with local/ regional issues. Such an approach requires us to challenge any one conception of modernity and, instead, to work from a perspective of multiple and alternative modernities.
This critique of, indeed dissent from, received models of modernity marks the engagement of the Center with the issues of the moment. Challenging and re-working orientalist approaches evokes a notion of culture that is particularly problematic in the intellectual evolution of South Asia, including in Pakistan. In this postcolonial context, culture is typically viewed in its high form. Pre-colonial architecture, music, art, and even imagined social norms are typically deployed in a search for an identity that is truly Pakistani/ Indian/ Bengali, etc. Unduly celebratory approaches, and a concentration on tangible heritage, have resulted in an embarrassed negotiation of the past, which is still viewed in orientalist frames as somehow lagging behind an unreservedly modern West. In this backdrop, culture is mostly deployed as a tool to proclaim a national culture or national identity, in search for modernization. In this perspective, rarely, if ever, is culture found relevant to questions of religion or spirituality, or to deeper understandings of how our societies are, and have been, gendered. Such isolated notions of culture have rendered it almost irrelevant to the defining problems of our time.Instead, CSGC believes that a truly grounded critique and re-working of the issues facing our region requires a broader view of culture as a struggle to offer meaning, a system of values, and a site for processing alterities in short, as a way of life. Such theorization of culture as a lived experience has partly evolved from critical theory in Europe but partly tuned in a postcolonial context in South America and, increasingly, India. This theorization of culture from its most popular (low culture) to its most exclusive (high culture) forms is becoming the ground within which to contest and negotiate identifications of collective Selves and relationships with the Other(s). We see this as the idiom for meaningful conversations between and within cultures. Furthermore, such theorization of culture offers a useful perspective on this phase of globalization. This phase is characterized not only by an unprecedented extent of social and economic inter-connectedness, but also by cultural homogenization.
|From the matrix of culture, the Center understands globalization as a complex relationship of shifting paradigms, unequal hierarchies, dissolution of solidities, and dismemberment and re-merging of meta-narratives. These tectonic movements in settled frontiers of thought are especially relevant for Asia, and for Muslim societies, which can begin to challenge received models of development and modernity, particularly by understanding historical constructions of subjectivity in non-Western societies. The space that the Center works to open, encourage and preserve is thus one of alternative narratives to critique and contest the received meta-narratives of modernity, progress, spirituality, religion, and gender. However, we view this critique of the universal not from an imagined meta-universal space but from the particular and the local. This is not to indulge in West-bashing- indeed, much of the Centers work builds upon multiple currents of Western thought, for instance Continental feminist philosophy, post-Jungian post-analytic psychology, deep ecology, and theorization of traditions.
This critique marks the starting point of the Center's agenda of study. We encourage a space of critical self-reflexivity. At the same time, as is evident from key contemporary issues, local conceptions of religion and spirituality are inherently embedded in this matrix of culture. At one level, the postcolonial, tangentially modern perspectives received by local social sciences and humanities tend toward a conceptualization of religion that is fundamentally disconnected from local realities, at least in much of Asia. While questions of religion and spirituality are forcing their presence onto the world stage, especially from Asia, we have yet to fully understand the complexities of contemporary manifestations of the religion/culture matrix. Much of the current analysis is discolored and often restricted to either superficial cultural clicheizing or academic extremism. We believe it is no longer relevant to divorce culture in the sense used above from an appreciation of the lived experiences of religion and how both are changing at this time.
For the Center, this inclusion of religion forces, in turn, an examination into traditional systems of thinking and being. An understanding of the construction of tradition is as important as an understanding of its binary opposite, modern, or even contemporary. A growing body of work places a recovery of traditional thought in a highly localized nexus of inter-relations, inter-connectedness and age-old principles, all of which have been transformed along the historical trajectory of a particular society.
|Gender, Culture and Religion|
|In this nexus, gender takes a special place both at the surface
in terms of gendered relations and more profoundly in terms of gendered systems of thought.
These deeper conceptions of gender are intimately linked with systems of religion and
spirituality, a fact that is evident from the intrusion of overtly religious practices
into gender relations. Gender, at this level, can be represented in symbols of cultural
practice which are closely linked to religious life, for instance across much of Asia.
Traditional religious epistemes specifically recognize the gendered nature of spirituality,
which is deployed in a spirit of complementarity not often witnessed today. Reclaiming
these traditions - as viewed through a contemporary reading of extant symbols - is a
crucial mission of the Center. The Center's scholars also build upon significant trends in
contemporary Western thought, among others, continental (European) feminism, ecofeminism,
feminist spirituality, psycholinguistics, anthropology and religion, and postanalytic
psychology. This does not imply an uncritical embrace of these currents in western
intellectual consciousness. Rather, it is to continue building a longstanding critical
engagement with these currents with the aim of furthering a dialogue at different levels:
for example, along with attempting to engage Muslims and feminists (however they define themselves),
in tandem there is an engagement with non-Muslims and others working on issues of
gender and religion, thereby also animating and enlarging existing levels of inter-civilizational
|The Center engages with culture and cultural symbols in this locally reflexive, gendered, and religiously oriented manner. We believe that innovative ways of addressing the pressing challenges of our time will emerge from such an engagement. For instance, the contemporary issue of the environment (brought to the fore by the West) is one that is well served from frameworks that are deeply cultural, based on widespread symbols, and which emphasize ecological inter-connectedness and value systems. Likewise, cultural conversations between civilizations are faltering in this moment, with serious repercussions for the lives and security of millions of people. However, these problems are often only viewed through the modern social science lens of politics, sociology, security, etc. Adding a religious, gendered, and historically rooted perspective offers innovative solutions. Among other concerns, homogenizing, universalist trends in this phase of modernity and globalization have paradoxically led to reduced inter-civilizational dialogue. Rather than bring civilizational perspectives into the same framework, we witness a radical polarization and disconnect from the historical Self as well as the contemporary Other. Self-reflexivity and knowledge, perhaps the pre-requisite for meaningful engagement, is less and less visible. Bringing gendered tradition and religion/ spirituality, offers exciting new ways of approaching a dead-locked arena, dominated by McWorld on the one hand and extremist subjectivities on the other.
Therefore, we see tremendous value in critically reclaiming what is most vibrant and relevant from local intellectual heritages. We seek to help open a critical edge of globalization. Of course, much theorization is already underway in many places. However, we build our understanding in a South Asian, especially Pakistani, context. Likewise, there is some revival of interest in religious traditions, and their gendered differentiation for instance in ecofeminist and continental feminist literature but we explore these dimensions of feminist spirituality in the relatively less charted arena of Islam.Our work towards a critical edge of globalization and modernity will, we hope, stimulate new approaches to the study of culture, and to the re-visioning of and emphasis on culture in our policy and politics. Indeed, through such an enquiry, the Center intends to encourage a new, indigenous more relevant politics of culture and knowledge. In the process we hope to not only re-vision culture, but to simultaneously bring it into the domain of religion and society. We see this evolution as a necessary component of meaningful intercultural dialogue.
|The Center is committed to this project of development in an intellectually rigorous manner. The very nature of cultural theorization, and the critique of ossified academic boundaries, means that the Center is engaged in an inherently inter-disciplinary exercise. As such, we are deliberately situated outside entrenched academic disciplines and outside institutional constraints.
The last is particularly important for the Center, originating in Pakistan. The state of humanities in the Pakistani academy is discouraging, with little new theorization, low relevance or impact of scholarship, and dying importance within university spaces as a whole. Humanities in general are de-linked from expressions of political identification, and the complete absence of cultural theorization makes a re-link (re-ligio) next to impossible. Furthermore, religiously oriented scholarship is tilted almost entirely towards theology and law/ jurisprudence, and placed firmly outside the matrix of culture. There is no room in disciplinary boundaries within the national academy to explore questions of lived culture as they relate to gender and spirituality. In fact, the state of universities from this perspective is in itself an area of study for the Center.The Center is, therefore, self-consciously an independent institutional space at a reflective distance from mainstream universities. Within this space, we hope to encourage a diverse range of enquiries, coupled with intensive interaction and exchange. While situated, for now, in Pakistan, the Center aims to employ information and communication technologies innovatively to generate a vision that is spread globally, by linking leading scholars and thinkers from across the world.
|back to top |
|Academic Advisory Council|
- Dr. Margot Badran - Senior Fellow, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA
- Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar - Psychologist. Author. Chicago, USA
- Dr. Akeel Bilgrami - Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Heyman Center for the Humanities, Member of the Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University, New York, USA
- Dr. William Chittick - Professor of Religious Studies and Affiliate Professor of Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, State University of New York, Stonybrook
- Mr. Marc Colpaert - Former Director, Center for International Management and Intercultural Communication, Katholieke Hogeschool, Mechelen, Belgium
- Dr. Carl W. Ernst - William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor (2005) and Director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA
- Dr. Eric Winkel- New Mexico, USA
- Dr. Juergen Wasim Frembgen - Professor of Islamic Studies, Museum of Ethnology, Munich & Institute of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Munich, Germany
- Dr. Shahla Haeri - Director of Women's Studies Program, Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Boston University, USA
- Dr. Madhu Khanna - Professor, Center for the Study of Comparative Religions and Civilizations, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India
- Dr. Sachiko Murata - Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, State University of New York, Stony Brook, USA
- Dr. Ashis Nandy - Senior Honorary Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, India
- Dr. Syed Hossein Nasr - University Professor of Islamic Studies, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA
- Dr. Jan N. Pieterse - Mellichamp Professor of Global & International Studies and Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
- Dr. Anna Suvorova - Professor and Head, Department of Asian Literatures and Languages, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia
- Dr. Alex Tickell - Senior Lecturer in English Literature, School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies, University of Portsmouth, UK
- Dr. Muhammad Suheyl Umar- Director, Iqbal Academy, Lahore, Pakistan
- Dr. Amina Wadud - Professor of Religious Studies, School of World Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA
- Dr. S. Akbar Zaidi - Independent Researcher, Karachi, Pakistan
- Mr. Khaled Ahmed - Consulting Editor, Friday Times. Director, South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA)
|back to top |
|Governance & Structure|
|The Center is a project of the Society for Arts, Education & Gender, a registered non-profit society in Pakistan under the Societies Act, 1961. The Center is thus governed by an independent, voluntary Board of Governors of the Society, and meets all legal obligations under the laws of Pakistan, including annual independent audit of finances.
Substantively, the Centers agenda is guided and quality-controlled by an Academic Advisory Council, comprising eminent scholars from leading universities and institutions across the world. The Council is chaired by the Centers Senior Research Fellow. A Director (who is also a Research Fellow of the Center) manages the institution for a term of three years (appointed by the Board of Governors, on recommendation of the Senior Research Fellow/ Chair, Academic Advisory Council). The research agenda of the Center is driven internally by a Research Committee, comprising Research Fellows and Associates of the Center. Generally, a Research Fellow will head a single program, supported by Research Associates. Project Coordinators will be responsible for managing single projects.
|back to top |
|CSGC has signed partnership agreements/ Memoranda of Understandings with:
|back to top |