Lecture Series: At the Center of the World?


About The Event

A Spatial Approach to the Hajj Pilgrimage

Venue: Berlin, Germany

Organized by: The Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies (BGSMCS), the Institute for Asian and African Studies (IAAW – Humboldt University of Berlin) and Center for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO)


Saud Serhan (King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies) and Werner Ende (Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg)

January 26, 2017 @ 6 pm | ZMO, Kirchweg 33, 14129 Berlin

Chanfi Ahmed (Humboldt University of Berlin) and Irit Back (Tel Aviv University)

February 23, 2017 @ 6 pm | IAAW, Room 315, Invalidenstraße 118, 10115 Berlin

Lale Can (City University of New York) and John Slight (University of Cambridge)

March 30, 2017 @ 6 pm | ZMO, Kirchweg 33, 14129 Berlin

Manja Stephan-Emmrich (Humboldt University of Berlin) and Marjo Buitelaar (University of Groningen)

April 27, 2017 @ 6 pm | IAAW, Room 315, Invalidenstraße 118, 10115 Berlin

Nile Green (University of California, L.A.) and Eileen Kane (Harvard University)

June 29, 2017 @ 6 pm | BGSMCS, Room 2.2058, Fabeckstraße 23-25, 14195 Berlin


The hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, is among the largest annual gathering in the world. To perform the hajj once in life is one of the five pillars of Islam, an obligation a Muslim must fulfil to obtain salvation. The hajj is seen as the single most important embodiment of the ‘Umma ⎯ the global community of Muslims. Its importance in the lives of individual Muslims, as well as for the creation of a sense of Muslim community cannot be overestimated. The hajj can be seen as the performance of the prescribed religious rituals in Mecca, but it is first and foremost the pilgrimage itself, the journey to and from the holy places. In the latter sense, it can be seen as a world in itself, a global, mobile and transient existence, centered on spirituality, blessing and reward in the hereafter, but involving such worldly matters as travel, trade, scholarship, politics, etc.

Recent scholarly attention inscribes the hajj as a defining manifestation and catalyst of globalization in its core definition. From the earliest expansions of Islam; via the early 19thcentury developments in transport, health and communication; to the current trends in global mass tourism, capital movements and service industries, the hajj has helped to shape them all, and was in turn shaped by them. These are probably the very reasons why the hajj has become such a popular topic of research with a broad spectrum of humanities and social sciences dealing with globalization, therewith re-inscribing orientalist regional studies into the mainstream of social sciences.

Since Alexander von Humboldt, the global has been conceptualized as a problem of space and scale. In this series of lectures, we seek to inquire into the scaling dimensions of space and place involved in all aspects of the hajj. We thus invite for a spatial approach to understand the hajj pilgrimage as a producer and transformer of space by the movement of people and things, networks, and the flow of ideas and ideologies. Taking the conceptualization of ‘space’ as a social product of changing power constellations (Lefebvre) as our point of departure, we seek to trace the intricate relationship of ‘hajj spaces’ with places in and beyond the Muslim world as it was traditionally conceived. Thereby, we conceive ‘place’ as geographical, physical or imagined knots of connectivity, interaction and flow (Massey, Knott) which may transgress, or even establish borders and boundaries and change through time and space. However, social relations are materially produced through technology, geography, mobility, economy, politics, and other material and immaterial realities. Mecca with its geographical surroundings, sacred meaning and material representations is thus ‘a place’ embedded in and constructed by complex and multi-layered historical, spatial and social configurations of connectedness, entanglement and transgression. At the same time, Mecca becomes an organic, historically forged, locally particular but globally interconnected ‘space’ in which religion has a dynamic involvement but intersects with economic strategies, technological development, political agendas, and social needs.

Addressing such topics as state policy, ritual practice, identity discourse, biography, technology, and emotion, the lecture series seeks to explore how ‘hajj spaces’ are produced, transformed or appropriated by various actors, on different epistemic scales; i.e. trans-/local, trans-/national, trans-/regional, and global, and in different time periods. Concrete questions may include the following: How were space and place socio-historically transformed in relation to the hajj? What are the technologies for producing ‘hajj spaces and places’ and how have these technologies been changed through time and space? How does the hajj pilgrimage facilitate physical or virtual encounters with the ‘Muslim Other’? How do these encounter in turn relate to the conceptualization of the Muslim ‘Umma? How do these encounters, in turn, produce intellectual, material or emotional spaces in which these differences or sameness can be negotiated, therewith articulating identity and belonging? And finally, how can the various spaces produced through the hajj pilgrimage be characterized or defined? Are they ‘open’ or become rather ‘closed’, as result of a particular policy or a technological novelty for example? When, and by whom, are hajj spaces and places perceived as ‘policed’ or ‘free’? Do the Muslim encounters mentioned above promote cosmopolitan habits or rather forms of provincialism, or both? How does ‘religious spaces’ interact with ‘secular’ ones, and how or what turns the hajj pilgrimage into ‘gendered’ spaces?

Source: The Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies (BGSMCS)

  • Cost: Free
  • Total Slot: 0
  • Booked Slot: 0

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 Berlin, Germany

Our Speakers

Chanfi Ahmed
Lale Can
Manja Stephan-Emmrich
Nile Green
Saud Serhan
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