Public Lecture Series Program 2022/2023

Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Unit

May 2023

Date and time: May 22, 2023,  18:00-20:00

Lecture title: Upholding the Sufi discourse of passionate love. Poetry and music in eighteenth-century India

Event is in-person and online:

Location: 38 A Unioninkatu, Room 132 (Topelia A 132)

To Register for online participation, please visit the following link:

Speaker: Dr. Mikko Autere – University of Helsinki 

Abstract: Shah Kalimullah (d. 1729), an influential Sufi master of the Chishti order, once wrote to his disciple advising him to give up listening to music, lest it annoy their colleagues belonging to the Naqshbandi order. Scholars like Carl W. Ernst have taken this to indicate Kalimullah’s indifference towards music. Indeed, the Sufi master’s profuse works on other Sufi practices and his silence on music seem to corroborate this view.

In this presentation, I challenge this supposition and argue that Kalimullah’s advice only applied in the specific circumstances the letter addressed. Comprehensive reading of the works of Kalimullah and his followers reveals that they, in fact, championed listening to music in religious environment that was growing increasingly hostile to it. In the face of astringent criticism, it might have been tempting to portray Sufi music as a cultural artefact easily given up. For Kalimullah and his followers this was not an option, since it would have implied relinquishing the discourse of passionate love nestled in sung poetry.

Kalimullah and his follower’s advocacy of listening to music in the end of the early modern period was vital to the survival of this Sufi practice in modern South Asia even as the reformist Islamic movements attempt to root it out.

Bio: Mikko Autere is University Lecturer in South Asian Studies at the University of Helsinki, where he teaches Hindi, Urdu, and courses on South Asian literatures and Islam. His research focuses on Sufism in early modern and modern South Asia with specific emphasis on religious practice and lived religion.


Previous lectures

September 2022

Date and time: September 19, 2022 18:00-20:00 pm

Lecture title: Identity, Migration, and Gender: Intersectionalities of Crisis & Redemption in Lebanon

Speaker:  Dr. Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss – Lebanese American University

Venue: Metsätalo, sali 12, Unioninkatu 40, University of Helsinki,zoom.

Abstract: Lebanon is in crisis: economically, financially, politically, socially, environmentally. Is anything going well in the country? With some caveats, one can argue that despite a vicious civil war from 1975-1990, Lebanon has been and continues to be a successful multicultural space. Interreligious dialogue and formal multi-sect recognition exist, including the first Muslim-Christian holiday: The Feast of the Annunciation (March 25). There is respect for minority rights as well as freedom of speech and the LGBTQ+ space is the most free in the Arab world. Yet one cannot say that all enjoy the benefits of a multicultural society; gender in particular is too often held hostage to sectarian, patriarchal identities. Power distribution (formal and informal) is oligopolistic and also built around supposedly primordial sectarian identities. Migration lessens and increases tensions—and has for 150 years. Now seems like an inflection point: Internal political crisis has led to economic and financial ruin during a time of intensifying crises globally—Lebanon may indeed fail in all ways. The talk thus seeks to answer the question: Can Lebanon as a successful multicultural space can survive in the face of so many catastrophes?

 Bio: Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss, PhD, is the founding Director of LAU’s Title IX Office and the university’s Gender Expert, with a focus on working with the MEPI-Tomorrow’s Leaders program. At LAU since 2005, she has been an Assistant Professor of Political Science/International Affairs and then Institutional Development Officer with the Office of the Provost. She is a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Migration Studies. Her research has focused on the topics of women and security as well as the politics of migration and the complexities of multiple citizenships. She has conducted research in Eastern Europe, the United States, and Lebanon as well as looked at the ongoing refugee crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean. Skulte-Ouaiss regularly publishes her work in international and regional peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes as well as reports. Her current research includes assessing the prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence among university students in Lebanon, political party development through  Lebanese elections, and interrogating borders and bordering via Syrian women migrants. In partnership with the Arab Institute for Women, Skulte-Ouaiss is working on developing the university’s capacity to more fully support equality, diversity, and inclusion at LAU. In her role as Director of the Title IX Office, she has launched a Gender Equality Plan to assess how and when LAU best supports gender equality and how and when it can improve. This Gender Equality Plan is the first of its kind for a university in Lebanon.  Prior to entering academia, Skulte-Ouaiss conducted research on international development and was engaged in higher education reform in Washington, DC.


October 2022

Date and time: October 10, 2022, 18:00-20:00 pm.

Lecture Title: Islamists in a Zionist Coalition: The Theological and Political Roots

Speaker: Professor Uriya Shavit – Tel Aviv University

Venue: Metsätalo, sali 12, Unioninkatu 40, University of Helsinki, zoom

Abstract:  On June 13, 2021, the United Arab List, representing the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel (SIM), became the first ever independent Arab party to join a Zionist governmental coalition. In so doing, it also became the first Islamic party in the history of Western democracies to attain the status of king-maker. The dramatic move left analysts puzzled: how could a political-religious movement rooted in the Muslim Brothers support a coalition led by a national-orthodox Jew and a former leader in the Settlers movement?

The presentation, based in part on readings of the SIM’s literature and in part on interviews conducted by the speaker with the religious leaders of the movement, will explore the theological and political premises of the pro-coalition path. It will demonstrate that contrary to conventional wisdom, the decision to join a Zionist coalition did not represent a sudden shift but rather drew on decades long theological writings by the movement’s leaders. Particular attention will be given to how SIM literature discussed core religious narratives about Muslims as minorities, including the hijra to Abyssinya and the story of Prophet Joseph; and to the SIM treatment of the religio-legal concept maslaha in the political context of being a Muslim minority. The presentation will also show that the pro-coalition tendency had strong roots in Arab-Israeli politics, and earned substantial support among Arab-Israeli publics.

The presentation will be given 10 days before the national elections in Israel, the fifth within three years, which have largely turned into a referendum about the inclusion of Arab Israelis in government. 

Bio: Uriya Shavit is Full professor of Islamic Studies and Migration Studies at Tel Aviv University. Among his most recent publications are Islamism and the West (Routledge, 2014), Shari’a and Muslim Minorities (Oxford University Press, 2015), Zionism in Arab Discourses (Manchester University Press, 2016), Scientific and Political Freedom in Islam (Routledge, 2017), and Shari’a and Life (University of Toronto Press, forthcoming, 20


November 2022 (I)

Date and time: November 14, 2022, 18:00-20:00 pm

Lecture title: Muhammad, His Followers, and the Religious Map of Arabia

Speaker: Dr. Ilkka Lindstedt – University of Helsinki

Venue: Metsätalo, sali 12, Unioninkatu 40, University of Helsinki, zoom.

Abstract: In this talk, Lindstedt will discuss the religious map of Arabia ca. 300–700 CE on the basis of material evidence (in particular, recent epigraphic finds) and important literary sources such as the Qur’an and the so-called Constitution of Medina. In contrast to the conventional picture, it will be suggested that the Arabia where the Prophet Muhammad was born was heavily monotheist. There were plenty of Jews and Christians but also gentiles who had adopted monotheist (or at least henotheist) ideas. Tangible evidence from Mecca and Medina is lacking (since archaeological or field surveys have not been carried out there) but it can be hypothesized that the situation was analoguous to the rest of the peninsula; the Qur’an arguably agrees with this idea. The Prophet’s proclamation was, in particular, addressed to the gentile believers (ummiyyun, hunafa’), but also some Jews and Christians joined him as his followers (without a need to convert). According to Arabic reports, the Caliph ‘Umar (r. 644–656) would have expelled Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsula. On the basis of to the material evidence, however, they were still living there centuries later. 

Bio: Ilkka Lindstedt is University Lecturer in Islamic Theology at the University of Helsinki. He works on pre-Islamic Arabia, early Islam, Arabic historiography, and Arabic epigraphy.  Recent publications include: Ilkka Lindstedt / Nina Nikki / Riikka Tuori (eds.), Religious Identities in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: Walking Together & Parting Ways, Brill 2022 and the article “Religious Warfare and Martyrdom in Arabic Graffiti (70s–110s AH/690s–730s CE),” open access at


November 2022 (II) 

Date and time: November 24, 2022,  16-18:00

Lecture title: Surviving the Purge: Challenges of the Sufism-Inspired Hizmet/Gulen Movement

Speaker: Dr.  Sophia Pandya – University at Long Beach

Venue: lecture hall U3039 in the Main Building

register for the zoom link here:

Abstract: This talk analyzes the Hizmet/Gulen Movement, its origin and history in Turkey, and the wide-reaching projects it has carried out at the international level. Since the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, Turkish President Erdogan has launched a purge against those he deemed his opposition. In particular, he blamed the failed coup on the Movement. The subsequent crackdown has had devastating consequences for Movement participants, with thousands fired, jailed, and forced to flee the country. How does this faith community make meaning out of their collective trauma, and how will they rebuild?

Bio: Sophia Pandya is a professor and department chair at California State University at Long Beach, in the Department of Religious Studies. Winner of the 2016 Advancement of Women Award at CSULB from the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, she received her BA from UC Berkeley in Near Eastern Studies/Arabic, and her MA and PhD from UC Santa Barbara in Religious Studies. A Fulbright Scholar, she specializes in women and Islam, and more broadly in contemporary movements within Islam. Dr. Pandya has authored a book (2012), Muslim Women and Islamic Resurgence: Religion, Education, and Identity Politics in Bahrain, on Bahraini women and the ways in which globalization and modern education impacted their religious activities. Having carried out research in Turkey on several occasions, she is also the co-editor of a second published volume (2012), The Gülen Hizmet Movement and its Transnational Activities: Case Studies on Charitable Activism. Dr. Pandya has also published about the Hizmet movement and its relationship to the Kurdish community, “Hizmet Educational Institutions and the Kurdish Community: Assimilation vs. Identity Politics,” and an article about family and gender in wartime Yemen, “The War Took Us Backwards”: Yemeni Families and Dialectical Patriarchal Reordering.” She is currently working on a book on the stories of Turkish refugees, and the meanings they find or construct from their ordeal.

January 2023

Date and time: January 30, 2023,  18:00-20:00

Lecture title: Islamic law -an ethical framework or juristic game?

Speaker: Dr. Mona Siddiqui – University of Edinburgh

register for the zoom link here by January 29, 18:00:

Abstract: Known as the queen of sciences in Islamic thought, Fiqh is a literary and intellectual discipline which also serves to provide ethical guidance to the faithful. The lecture will reflect on a variety of juristic arguments from the classical manuals to illustrate how the juristic form and style maintained a legal and devotional tradition.  

Bio: Professor Siddiqui is an internationally recognised academic and broadcaster at the University of Edinburgh. Her research areas are primarily in the field of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and ethics and Christian-Muslim relations. She is an internationally sought after public speaker on religion, ethics and public life. Professor Siddiqui is a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, holds six honorary doctorates and an honorary fellowship of the Royal Society of Scottish Architects for her contributions to public life. She is the recipient of many grants, the most recent from the Issachar Fund on the theme of Gratitude in Christian and Islamic thought; an edited volume on this topic is currently in press with CUP. Amongst her most recent publications are, Human Struggle: Christian and Muslim Perspectives, based on her 2016 Gifford lectures (CUP, 2021), and 50 Ideas in Islam (Quercus, 2016). She is currently working on her next monograph, Faith and Fidelity in Islamic Thought which will be published by Edinburgh University Press in 2023. In September 2022, Professor Siddiqui became the Jane and Aatos Erkko Visiting Professor in Studies on Contemporary Society at the Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies. 

February 2023

Date and time: Feb. 20, 2023,  18:00-20:00

Lecture Title: Spiraling Out of a Nightmare: Resistance and Transcendence in Metal from the South

Speaker: Dr. Mark LeVine – UC Irvine

(this is a virtual lecture, register to get zoom link)

Registration link:

Abstract: Along with hip hop and punk/hardcore, heavy metal  subcultures have, across the Middle East in particular, played an important role as generators of countercultural thinking and activism against repressive regimes and social systems during the last two decades, even as members of the various metal scenes have tended to avoid direct confrontation with governments during actual uprisings.
My presentation explores how members of these scenes create collaborative ontologies that constituted forms of resistance that were difficult either to repress or coopt, opening spaces for greater politicization of scene members even in ways that outgrew the music and the scenes themselves. I also demonstrate how these dynamics function as a kind of 21st century critical theory which, when coupled with approaches such as decolonial and Indigenous theories, offers a powerful heuristic for understanding how under situations of extreme personal and communal stress,musicians and fans come together to create new identities, new narratives and new soundscapes that transcend hegemonic and repressive narratives and harbor imaginaries whose liberatory potential is directly related to their dissonant character.


Bio: Mark LeVine is Professor of Middle Eastern and African Histories at UC Irvine, he is founding Chair and current director of the Program in Global Middle East Studies. His research and teaching focus on the following issues: histories, theologies and political and cultural economies of the Middle East, Africa and Islam in the modern and contemporary periods; cultural production in conflict zones; cultural production, revolution and resistance in the Middle East and Africa; modern and contemporary Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco; comparative studies of imperialism and colonialism, urban planning and architecture (history and theory); critical theory and globalization studies with a comparative focus on theory from the Global South and popular cultures and performance activism; and religion in Europe and the Muslim world. LeVine has been the recipient of major grants from esteemed institutions. His latest book is We’ll Play till We Die: Journeys Across a Decade of Revolutionary Music in the Muslim World published by UC Press in 2022. His previous books include Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine published by the University of California Press in 2005; Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil published by Oneworld Publications in 2005; Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance and the Soul of Islam published in 2008 by Random House, it has been expanded into an award-winning theatrical documentary as well as an album; Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine since 1989 published by Zed Books in 2009.

March 2023 (I)

Date and time: March 13, 2023,  18:00-20:00

Title: The Essential Facets of Juridical Ethics in the Development of Islamic Ethics

Speaker: Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina, George Mason University

(this is a virtual lecture, register to get zoom link)

Registration Link:

Abstract: The present study has developed Islamic ethical thought by going back to  to the scriptural sources, mainly the Qur’an to examine the revelatory compulsion to respond to the fundamental moral-legal question of application that emerge from the religious sources.  The classical sources are keenly aware of the synonymity between religion and ethics to direct human life to the development of moral excellence.  The study develops an argument that refers to the classical legal theory and application dealing with legal doctrines and judicial decision-making to explore the moral process that has been largely ignored by the orientalist legalistic scholarship until now.     

Bio: Abdulaziz Sachedina, Ph.D., is Professor and Endowed IIIT Chair in Islamic Studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.  Dr. Sachedina, who has studied in India, Iraq, Iran, and Canada, obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto.  He has been conducting research and writing in the field of Islamic Law, Ethics, and Theology (Sunni and Shiite) for more than four decades.  In the last fifteen years he has concentrated on social and political ethics, including Interfaith and Intrafaith Relations, Islamic Biomedical Ethics and Islam and Human Rights.  Dr. Sachedina’s publications include: Islamic Messianism (State University of New York, 1980); Human Rights and the Conflicts of Culture, co-authored (University of South Carolina, 1988); The Just Ruler in Shiite Islam (Oxford University Press, 1988); The Prolegomena to the Qur’an (Oxford University Press, 1998), The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism (Oxford University Press, 2002), Islamic Biomedical Ethics: Theory and Application (Oxford University Press, February 2009),  Islam and the Challenge of Human Rights (Oxford University Press, September 2009), Islamic Ethics: Fundamental Aspects of Human Conduct (Oxford University Press, 2022), in addition to numerous articles in academic journals.   He is an American citizen born in Tanzania.


March 2023 (II) 

Date and time: March 27, 2023,  16:30-18:30 (Ramadan Schedule, note change in timing)

This lecture will be only via Zoom, to sign up please register at the link below:

Title: App Developers as Authorities: Muslim Prayer Apps and Technological Affordances

Speaker: Dr. Andrea Stanton – University of Denver 

Abstract: This talk takes a lived religion perspective on contemporary Muslim life, showing how online religious engagement forms an increasing integral part of piety for many Muslims (as well as for many people of other faiths). It examines how some Muslims engage with preacher- and khutba- (sermon) focused religious apps, and how this engagement both blurs and reconfigures existing lines of authority. Khutba collection apps, which may be transnational or anchored in a national context, attract people interested in accessing khutbas by topic, often regardless of the speakers’ identity; while preacher apps attract users interested in accessing sermons with the authority of a specific preacher. The talk suggests that Muslims’ use and review of preaching-related apps offer one key site for online religious engagement. Given that ordinary Muslims have created many of these apps, it argues that their role as app developers allows them to act as de facto religious authorities, indicating the need for a ground-up complication of scholarly discussions about religious authority in contemporary Muslim contexts.

Bio: Andrea Stanton is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Denver (USA). Her research takes a lived religions approach, focusing on 21st-century Islam and connections between digital media and contemporary piety. Recent publications include articles on hajj apps and on online debates over emoticon usage. She has received grants from the American Academy of Religion, the Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the US Institute of Peace.

April 2023

Date and time: April 24, 2023,  18:00-20:00

Lecture title: Epistemology of the Ornamental Experience in Islam

Speaker: Dr. Valérie Gonzalez – SOAS

This lecture is both will be in person so please join us, a zoom option is also available, to register please sign up at:

Abstract: Ornament is the most ubiquitous and versatile Islamic artistic expression, in history like in contemporaneity. Yet, it remains most misunderstood. Little has changed since the pioneer art historian, Oleg Grabar, remarked: ‘Why Islamic culture developed this particular [ornamental] tendency is still an unresolved matter… we are simply unable to decipher the forms of the tradition’. This major lacuna in the knowledge of Islamic culture is due to the exclusive use of traditional art history by a theory-averse mainstream scholarship. This lecture will discuss this situation by presenting a fresh epistemology of Islamic ornament and the experience it is meant to produce in contemporary philosophical-critical terms, in tune with the religious studies’ recent material turn focused on the role of the sensible in piety. Will be questioned, in particular, this scholarship’s reliance on both the Eurocentric theories of the ornamental genre as an accessory (parergon) to the main work (ergon), object or architecture, and the post-Enlightenment divide of the religious versus the secular. At odds with a Muslim scholarship that has been consistently claiming that aesthetic materialities constitute an instrument of the faith, this inadequate approach will compel the speaker to touch upon the decolonisation of Islamic art history at a time when established Western parameters of study applied to non-Western cultures are being deconstructed.

Bio: Valérie Gonzalez is Research Associate at SOAS, University of London. She is a specialist of Islamic art history, aesthetics and visual culture. She obtained a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, University of Provence Aix-Marseille, and a Master of Fine Arts in painting, School of Fine Arts, Marseille-Luminy. Her research addresses conceptual issues and creative processes in Islamic artistic practices past and present such as figurality, abstraction, pictorial metaphysics or the philosophy of ornament. Her interdisciplinary methodology ranges from art history, art criticism and theory, to philosophy, in particular phenomenology. She also writes for contemporary artists of Muslim heritage and/or inspired by Islamic aesthetics. She was awarded scholarships from the Kunsthistorisches Institut-Max-Planck-Institut, Florence, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, MIT, and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. See among her books: Aesthetic Hybridity in Mughal Painting, 1526-1658, Ashgate 2015; Le piège de Salomon, La pensée de l’art dans le Coran, Albin Michel, 2002, and Beauty and Islam, Aesthetics of Islamic Art and Architecture IBTauris, 2001 (translated in Bosnian and Turkish). In 2004, her article “The Comares Hall in the Alhambra and James Turrell’s Space that Sees: A comparison of Aesthetic Phenomenology”, (Muqarnas, 20) won the Eisenstein Prize.