Mouftah’s article explores Egyptian anxieties about ignorance and how the January 2011 uprising brought new urgency to calls for managing it. In post-Mubarak Egypt, literacy activism became a major platform from which to “continue the revolution.” Drawing on ethnographic research that observes a national literacy campaign among shipyard workers, Mouftah demonstrates how a particular strand of Islamic reformism makes modern education an indicator of morality, ultimately constraining the revolutionary potential of the literacy movement. Literacy activism offers a crucial lens to observe a major challenge for revolutionary action—the negotiation of recognition among social classes. Through attention to teacher-student interactions, she depicts how workers negotiated the power of the written word to gain respect in their early experiments with writing. This article contributes toward an anthropology of ignorance by revealing the political predicaments that arise out of an Islamic literacy activism that, Mouftah argues, is ultimately counterrevolutionary in its effects.
Ignorance: Islam, Literacy, and Status in the Shadow of Revolution
Nermeen Mouftah is an assistant professor of religious studies at Butler University. Her ethnographic research explores how religious authorities, activists, and everyday people articulate “Islamic solutions” to problems of poverty and exclusion. She is currently writing a monograph that examines how activism for and techniques of adult literacy are imbricated in religious reform in post-Mubarak Egypt. A second research project explores how religion shapes the legal, biological, and affective negotiations involved in practices of Muslim orphan care.
Nermeen Mouftah; Ignorance: Islam, Literacy, and Status in the Shadow of Revolution. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 December 2018; 38 (3): 524–539. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201x-7208845
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