Investigating the ‘Islamic’ Word on the Body – 5in10 with Fatima Tofighi
Fatima Tofighi is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Religions (Qom, Iran), where she teaches a variety of topics on theories and methods in religious studies, feminist approaches to religion, biblical interpretation, and hermeneutics, among other things. She holds a PhD in Literature and Theology from the University of Glasgow (UK). Before that, she studied English Literature, as well as Islamic Theology and Law in Qom seminaries. She published the first Farsi translation of the Book of Mormon, among other translations. In her monograph Paul’s Letters and the Construction of the European Self (Bloomsbury, 2016), Tofighi arguments that Paul transgresses the limits of Europe. At the moment, she is directing her research on philosophical explorations of the body, especially in modernity. In the academic year 2017/18, she is a EUME Fellow.
What was intriguing to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?
As a child, I was a dreamer. My dreams included everything from exploring the space to discovering unknown small things. As I grew up, I always thought I had to put aside that dreamer because the world had its own laws. I was — as it were — called by the reality to cope with it. But then I learnt that dreaming can be an essential part of making our own world, a world that is a better place to live. But of course I am no longer a child, and know fully well that my dreams may not all come true.
How do you explain your current research project to your students?
Well, you may not have noticed, but many of thoughts and actions are set within structures, about which you are not necessary aware. One of these structures is the way everyone understands and treats their bodies. And though it may surprise us, this understanding has not been the same throughout history, or in different societies. I am trying to tease out how Iranian religious intellectuals who were active from 1960 to 1980 understood the body and treated the body. This is mainly important because in Iran what they said is usually taken as the word of ‘Islam’ on any topic. And I would especially like to understand, and perhaps question, what is taken as the ‘Islamic’ word on the body.
Which stations of your academic journey were particularly formative to you?
My background is in literary and theological studies. It is hard to decide which part was formative. But I’d like to mention the time I started to teach in universities. After a long time of relatively isolated research, I had to communicate my learning to others. But more importantly, I realized that it was only when I prepared for my classes, or when I had to struggle to simplify certain more complicated things (without making them lose their complexity), or when I had to answer questions that had never crossed my own mind that I came to learn about the blind spots in my own assumptions, studies, and research. I had to dig out the topic in question, uncover its different aspects, and explain the assumptions that I had taken forgranted.
Which publications or academic events (workshops, conferences, lecture series…) did inspire you recently?
As I am investigating a cultural history of the body, Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Women with Moustaches, Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (University of California Press, 2005) has been very influential in my research. Najmabadi’s history of modern Iranian heteronormativity was very eye-opening, shedding new light on many inexplicable debates in the past 200 years.
How is it to do research in Germany?
I always liked to spend some time to do research in Germany, because I usually thought that humanities are valued very much in this country. And so far, I have been happy with everything. It was also interesting for me to get away from some American approaches that have usually prevailed humanities, and see things from another lens. I am also grateful for the community of scholars who have gathered here from different parts of the world, with their different backgrounds and insights.
Citation: “Investigating the ‘Islamic’ word on the body” – 5in10 with Fatima Tofighi, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 15.03.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/9247.