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The muslim popular culture in Asia: Aesthetics and politics

Panel organised by: Muhammed Puthusseri (independent)

Panel description

The Muslim societies have had a different and distinct relationship with popular culture. The Muslim response to popular culture, especially western popular culture, has been widely perceived as one of that of resistance, especially against negative portrayal of the community in various popular cultural productions. However, over the years Muslim engagement with the domain of popular has emerged as a distinct area of academic research. Scholars have pointed out, how, in the aftermath of 9/11 and “Arab Spring”, popular culture has emerged as a key site to understand Muslim negotiations with global modernity, democracy and the self-fashioning of Muslims. From Islamic-themed popular cultural productions such as cinema, “home cinema”, hip-hop, “Muslim rap”, “halal soaps” to the reception of various cultural productions in Muslim societies—a result of transnational flow of popular culture—there has been a diverse range of engagements with popular culture in various Muslim societies in Asia.

In Asia, where modernity has had a distinct trajectory, religion continues to occupy a central space in the structuring of everyday life. Given that Asia is home to a significant percentage of total Muslim population in the world, it is worthwhile to explore Muslim engagement with the popular domain to understand Muslim engagement with modernity. While in some places there is a “fear” of Islamization in which popular culture plays a part, in some other places popular culture offers an arena for Muslims to negotiate their identity as a Muslim in multicultural societies. Keeping these in mind, this panel seeks to explore the Muslim engagement with popular culture in various Asian countries—both Muslim-majority countries (such as Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.) and countries where Muslims are a minority (such as India). The panel explores how popular culture helps us understand the social transformation happening in Muslim societies and how Muslims fashion their identities. The ethics and aesthetics of both production and consumption of popular culture in Muslim societies will be explored. Through an exploration of Muslim engagement with cinema, music, digital culture, cinephilia, use of popular culture references in protest slogans and publicity materials, etc. the panel seeks to examine if one can discern the emergence of a distinct “Muslim popular”. This “Muslim popular”, which should not be confused with “Popular Islam”, may be seen as the site where Muslims negotiate between their identity as Muslims and global modernity in everyday life.


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