Edward Escalon Jr: Starting off, we like to do this exercise with scholars because we live in the world wrought by social media: if you had to describe your work in 280 characters or less, what would you say?
Yasmin Moll: You know, although I am a media anthropologist, I am no longer active on social media and deliberately so. Imho [in my humble opinion], one of the dis-affordances of social media is the nuance necessary for scholarship. But I will play: My upcoming book examines what theological debates over new forms of Islamic media in Egypt reveal about the fraught intersections of ethics, politics, and aesthetics in an age at once authoritarian and revolutionary. That’s 185 characters if you are counting.
Agnes Mondragon: Staying with this topic, from your articles “Subtitling Islam” and “Television is Not Radio” we get a sense of the role media forms play in producing novel ways of thinking about, and partaking in, religious life. Can you tell us more about how these themes figure in the book you are writing?
Yasmin: Over the past decade we have seen protest movements fighting for democracy and social justice and against state violence galvanize ordinary people around the world. From the so-called Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter, media technologies are central to these struggles. Similarly, activists across religious traditions see media as vital to their own efforts to create alternative futures. The aims of these movements may seem antithetical: emancipatory and creative on the one hand and constraining and conforming on the other. My book shows how this is not necessarily the case. Focusing on Islamic television preaching, The Revolution Within unpacks how religious media became a key site of advocacy for a revolutionary “New Egypt.” This democratic activism was shaped by a broader religiously-reasoned critique of actually existing Islamism and Salafism, the two dominant orientations of the Arab religious right, as well as of secular liberalism, the default orientation of middle-class progressivism in the region.