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Dr. Florian Zemmin

Senior Research Fellow

(present February - July 2018)

florian.zemmin@islam.unibe.ch

Areas of Interest

  • Islamic intellectual history, in Arabic and (Ottoman-)Turkish
  • History of concepts, historical semantics
  • Religion and society
  • Genealogies of modernity

Research project: Sociology in the Arabic World – towards a Genealogy of Secularity in Islam

The research undertaken at the HCAS forms the initial stage of a larger (5-year) project on “The Social and the Self: A Genealogy of Secularity in Islam”. Secularity is here defined as an understanding of the social as functioning according to stable, universal principles and laws; an understanding that is postulated by selves who consider themselves able to rationally discern these laws. Secularity thus defined implies the concomitant constitution of religion as a sphere distinct from society, and in this sense shares in the HCAS’s definition of secularity as a distinction between religion and others. Having in a previous project shown that modern Islamic intellectuals also distinguish between religion and society (cf. Zemmin, Modernity in Islamic Tradition), this project aims at a genealogical model of secularity in the Arabic-Islamic world, paying especial attention to conceptual transformations. My working hypothesis is that secularity did not merely spread from Europe but rather that Islamic and other proto-secularities (which of course can only be identified as such in hindsight) converged under conditions of colonial hegemony to become multiple co-constitutive secularities – which in their entirety constitute secularity at large.
As with any genealogy, my starting point is the end point, namely sociology; that discourse in which the secular understanding of an autonomous social, with its own laws to be discerned (read: postulated) by rational selves, was institutionalised and elaborated. The fact that the inherent secularism of sociology (and other disciplines of the humanities, cf. Josephson-Storm, The Myth of Disenchantment) has become questionable, does not undo the discipline’s secularity, but rather helps to integrate the non-secularist also, including Islamic sociologies. It is with a twofold aim that I, in this first step undertaken at the HCAS, attend to the evolution of sociology (ʿilm al-ijtimāʿ) in the Arabic-Islamic world: Firstly, to verify the shared end point of the genealogy to be established, and secondly, to identify pre-colonial references in Arabic-Islamic sociology (other than the notorious Ibn Khaldun) that will help to establish that genealogy. Given that the social (al-ijtimāʿ) was an answer to the reoccurring problem that life lived in common had become questionable, the eventual genealogical model will then be constructed along earlier Arabic-Islamic answers to this reference problem, along one line (sociology of knowledge) inquiring into whether these answers were formulated by selves and contained references to the social – if not, what were the alternatives? – and along another line (historical semantics) reconstructing the concepts employed in these answers. This genealogical model of Islamic secularity will account both for historic and conceptual continuities and for creative appropriations of hegemonic European secularity.

Biography

since 2016

Research Associate for Islamic Studies, Institute for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Bern (Switzerland)

2016

Ph.D. (Dr. phil), Islamic Studies, Institute for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Bern (Switzerland)

2011-2016

Research Assistant (2011-2015 funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation), Institute for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Bern (Switzerland)

2010

M.A. Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (Major) and Study of Religion (Minor) (supported by a Master Grant from the University of Bern), University of Bern (Switzerland)

2007

B.A. Cultural Studies with a Focus on Religion (Major) and Intercultural German Studies (Minor), University of Bayreuth (Germany)

Relevant Publications

  • Zemmin, Florian (2018). Modernity in Islamic Tradition: The Concept of ‘Society’ in the Journal al-Manar (Cairo, 1898-1940). Religion and society. Boston/Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • Zemmin, Florian (2018). “[Review of] Wael Abu-ʿUksa: Freedom in the Arab World: Concepts and Ideologies in Arabic Thought in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.” Die Welt des Islams 58/1: 65–68.
  • Zemmin, Florian, Colin Jager, and Guido Vanheeswijck, eds. (2016). Working with A Secular Age: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Charles Taylor's Master Narrative. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.
  • Zemmin, Florian, Colin Jager, and Guido Vanheeswijck (2016). “Introduction.” In Working with A Secular Age: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Charles Taylor's Master Narrative. Edited by Florian Zemmin, Colin Jager and Guido Vanheeswijck, 1–19. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.
  • Zemmin, Florian (2016). “A Secular Age and Islamic Modernism.” In Working with A Secular Age: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Charles Taylor's Master Narrative. Edited by Florian Zemmin, Colin Jager and Guido Vanheeswijck, 307–30. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.
  • Zemmin, Florian (2016). “An Annotated Bibliography of Responses to A Secular Age.” In Working with A Secular Age: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Charles Taylor's Master Narrative. Edited by Florian Zemmin, Colin Jager and Guido Vanheeswijck, 385–420. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter
  • Zemmin, Florian (2016). “Modernity without Society? Observations on the term mujtamaʿ in the Islamic Journal al-Manār (Cairo, 1898–1940).” Die Welt des Islams 56/2: 223–47.
  • Zemmin, Florian (2015). “Integrating Islamic Positions into European Public Discourse: The Paradigmatic Example of Tariq Ramadan.” Journal of Religion in Europe 8/1: 121–46.
  • Zemmin, Florian (2012). “Vom gesellschaftlichen Engagement für den Islam zum islamischen Engagement für die Gesellschaft: Verschiebungen in Tariq Ramadans Plädoyer für eine ganzheitliche Moderne.Asiatische Studien 66/3: 749–810.
  • Zemmin, Florian (2011). Islamische Verantwortungsethik im 17. Jahrhundert: Ein weberianisches Verständnis der Handlungsvorstellungen Kātib Čelebis (1609-1657). Bonner Islamstudien 26. Edited by Stephan Conermann. Schenefeld: E. B. Braun.