“My wish goes to the breaking down of disciplinary boundaries.” – 5in10 with Karim Sadek

Karim Sadek (EUME Fellow 2014/2015) holds a PhD in Philosophy from Georgetown University and has served, since then, as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at the American University of Beirut (AUB), as a Research Fellow at the Oxford Center of Islamic Studies, and taught Philosophy at AUB and Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey. His research interests fall on the intersection between Critical Theory, democratic theory, and Islamic political thought. As a EUME Fellow Karim was working on completing a book manuscript titled “‘Arab Spring’”: Authoritarianism or Emancipation? Recognition, Islamic Identity, and Radically Democratic Islamic Politics”. In this book Karim conducts an intellectual rapprochement between contemporary Critical Theory and Islamic revivalist movements and political thought to establish the possibility and legitimacy of a radically democratic conception of Islamic politics, and clear the way for developing a characteristically Islamic critical social theory.

Karim Sadek. Photo: Forum Transregionale Studien

Karim Sadek. Photo: Forum Transregionale Studien

What was intriguing to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?

Breaking toys to see what is inside. Or, so I am told. I honestly do not recall much of my childhood. A few months older than the Lebanese civil war, I grew up believing that chaos, uncertainty, violent disagreement, casualties, the public display of arms, etc. were part of the furniture of the world. I do not recall wanting to know much about the world. In retrospect, however, I would say things started to change with my first trip outside this reality. After half an hour’s drive from Larnaka the capital of Cyprus, I got really restless and anxious not stopping at a checkpoint – I felt insecure. This event marked me as it made it vividly and experientially clear that how things appear to me presupposes how I take things to be. Put differently, that was the seed of my interest in understanding and analyzing the background against which things in the world make sense.

How would you explain your current research to a stranger in an elevator („elevator pitch”)? 

I would say my discipline is philosophy, and I work on religion and politics generally, and Islam and democracy more specifically. And if it is a slow elevator, I might elaborate asking that stranger to imagine we are stuck in this elevator for life, and how in such a case we would better figure out a way not only to co-exist but also to grow and flourish together. Both religion and politics are here to stay and we are better off figuring out how to make them grow and flourish together. My work tries to make a contribution to this endeavor. And to answer the question more directly, in my research I establish the possibility and legitimacy of a radically democratic conception of Islamic politics – the practice of engaging in social and political affairs on the basis of Islamic principles and fundamentals.

Which stations of your academic journey were extremely formative to you?

The first and most important station is that which set me on track. I was an unmotivated and cynical undergraduate student at the American University of Beirut. After an intensive year of English I only accumulated academic probations. It was an introduction to philosophy class with a charismatic teacher that initiated a process of reflection and self-reflection that led me to finish my undergraduate studies with a BA in economics and a passion for philosophy. The second formative station was studying philosophy at Georgetown. Georgetown’s philosophy department’s ability to combine a great pluralism of opinions and disagreements with a friendly and supportive spirit was invaluable. It is important for me to clarify the implicit answer in my answer. The two stations I mention, and there are more, are important not because of the academic content they provided me with (even though they did provide that), but because they provided the conditions for me to become receptive to academic content.

How is it to do research in Germany?

Although I was fairly productive during my year in Berlin, I find it difficult to do work in Berlin because it has great powers of distraction. Further, my stay in Berlin was very profitable in terms of relating my research to other disciplines and research areas. I met and engaged with great researchers, and have built what promises to be long lasting and fruitful academic relations. To put it differently, during my ten months stay in Berlin, my research grew more horizontally than vertically. Still and because I am unfamiliar with the way research projects and institutions work here, it has been hard for me to find the people in the city (who could literally be next door) with overlapping interests.

If you had one wish, what would you wish for the further development of your subject?

My wish goes to the breaking down of disciplinary boundaries.

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