CfP: Alcohol in the Muslim World: History, Geography, Practices and Policies (15th-21st centuries)

Call for papers, deadline 1 September 2020


Nessim ZNAIEN and Philippe BOURMAUD


Often perceived in this region as a “tireless stowaway”, to use Fernand Braudel's words, alcohol is regularly in the news among societies of northern Africa and the Middle East as tides of prohibition or cases of methanol poisoning. The scientific literature on the Arab and Muslim world, however, has paid relatively little attention to this object, as if the prejudiced view of Muslims as necessarily abstinent precluded research on the subject. There is a glaring discrepancy between research on the beginnings and the classical period of Islam, well studied from this point of view, and more recent periods, since the advent of the Ottomans and the Safavids in particular. Research, for the most part, has focused on the subjective construction and experience of alcohol, present both in literature (most often in praise of drinking) and in the legal disciplines where the norm reproving the consumption of alcoholic beverages is the subject of a markedly progressive constitutive process and never fully consensual.

In line with some recent work (such as that of Omar Foda or François Georgeon), and as part of a growing historiography of drinking studies (with recent syntheses of world history of alcohol by Hames Gina on the one hand, and Kim Anderson and Vicente Pinilla on the other), it is a question here of studying alcoholic beverages through the prism of multiple associated normativities arising as modern and contemporary processes of globalization are felt in the Muslim worlds. The originality of this project consists in confronting, in one collective study, the origin and function of these standards as they relate to alcohol across historical periods, from the classical to the contemporary. We thus begin our reflection in the 15th century, when the constitution of the Ottoman Empire produced new forms of administration, and the creation of new elites. Authors are encouraged to adopt the widest possible conception of “Muslim worlds”, to question different branches of Islam (Sunnism, Shiism), different geographic frameworks (Mediterranean, Middle East, Far Asia, Arabian Peninsula) and different contexts ( majority Islam, diaspora Islam), in order to enrich the analysis.

The normativities in question are first religious, central to the analysis of alcohol consumption in the Arab and Muslim world. It is not simply a matter of considering a prohibition inherent to Islam, but of examining how Islamic norms are articulated and confronted with more or less strict normative practices and ways of designing public policies permeable to other issues such as geopolitics or commercial traffic.

Alcohol is a means for producing and perpetuating changing forms of domination and dependency while it is central to multiple social regulations. In our context, normativity or norm has the triple meaning of instrument of coercion, state of habit, and product standardization phenomenon (as in food norms). Contributions may consider the construction of alcohol consumption norms based on a co-construction of usage and consumption norms by different groups, not simply as a fiat decision "from above". Several themes will allow us to try to articulate an interdisciplinary reflection around alcohol.

The history of standards

We propose to explore the evolution of alcohol consumption standards, as a result of migratory processes, under the influence of market globalization from the Middle Ages as well as the result of sustained contacts between Muslim, Christian and Jewish societies. The problems associated with alcohol consumption make it possible to highlight a diverse context, particularly with respect to legal issues that characterize the various denominations and communities within these societies. By turns persecuted by the authorities or to some extent tolerated, depending on the period, alcoholic beverages appear as markers of religious movements, political contexts or social issues.

It is worth considering the function and practices of morals entrepreneurs, drinkers, and more generally, the social category of actors implementing standards. The consumption of alcoholic beverages can be used as an argument to build or unbuild the reputation of notables in medieval and modern societies. We also propose to examine the periodization of mutations of normative systems defined by historians, such as the reign of the Ottoman sultan Mahmoud II (1808-1839), whose successor emptied the cellars into the Bosphorus, or the successive colonizations beginning in 1830. As François Georgeon has shown, drinking became a mark of modernity for certain Ottoman elites. However, not all notables and civil servants become drinkers, and drinking is not necessarily linked to a global perception of reforms or relations with Europe. The promotion of “local” drinks, both wines and distilled alcohols in Algeria, Tunisia and Lebanon showcased the European colonial enterprise of the 19th and 20th centuries, and were used for the benefit of the economy and as a means for independent states to signal cultural openness and a willingness to accept all consumption practices (particularly in Tunisia and Egypt). Many independent heads of state however, preferred to practice sobriety, as if to better differentiate local customs from an encroaching European element (Gaddafi). Not colonization, nor modernization, nor even decolonization would constitute absolute cultural breaks. We encourage proposals whose chronological framework may question these accepted timeframes.

The dimensions of memory and heritage will also have to be considered: how are periods of permissiveness or prohibition, linked to pre-Islamic or Islamic periods, accounted for in the memories and imaginations of contemporary societies? Thus, questions of "modernity" or of attachment to "traditions" always refer to fantasized pasts that are nonetheless factors of legitimation in contemporary discourse. The issue of heritage, however, not only refers to the art of the question, but echoes local knowledge of distillation processes and techniques as well as appropriations and transmission of these by the various actors according to the times.

Drinking places

“Drinking places” suggest a dichotomy between public and private spaces. By studying the position of alcohol in public spaces, we will highlight its marginal or clandestine dimension, or we may find there is a degree of ostentation where the consumption of alcoholic beverages is permitted. We will also address the issue of access by certain individuals to such public spaces, particularly women. If access to private spaces is frequently more difficult, it will be relevant to consider at a minimum, the shared representations surrounding consumption in this sphere and the construction of a dichotomy of public/private spaces within Muslim society.

The question of a geographical distribution of normative standards crystallizes the idea that different administrative sovereignties—local, regional, national and even transnational—may be at issue in the daily management of consumption practices. On a more global scale, consumption premises may also refer to representations and inhabited spaces associated with states deemed to be permissive or on the contrary, more prescriptive, and to the links that these states maintain with each other on this question. The location of such places may be variable, and it is within the purview of this reflection that we should question the influences of migratory processes that determine the observed geographies of consumption, in particular with regard to the effect of migrant diasporas on alcohol consumption practices.

Drinking practices

“Drinking practices” suggest an examination of sociability and development of relationships between individuals, depending on the value attributed to alcohol consumption, gender profile, social class and occasions for drinking (whether by day or by night, for example). Particular attention will be paid to the integration of alcohol consumption practices within religious rituals, particularly among Sufi communities or within certain sects of Islam. Such drinking practices more generally imply a history of taste and sensibility beyond the utilitarian use and a drink consumed as a matter of ritual practice.

Finally, it will be of interest to better understand how the consumption, sale or production of alcohol are essential to certain specific public policies associated with religious issues (for example, in relation to the Nahda (awakening), or Islamic reformism of Afghani or Rida), with health issues (in the fight against poisoning linked to adulterated alcohol, the fight against alcohol addiction and certain cardiovascular diseases), with economic issues (taxation policies or on the contrary liberalization of certain alcohol production or trade activities) or with public policies (prohibition or tolerance related to issues of public control, or road safety).

We particularly invite contributions which examine the effects of the "scientization" of public discourse and the "expertization" of public policies in this area. If alcohol is not at the center of these policies, it will be a question of whether the taboo associated with alcohol imposes other, more indirect modes of public action, which would have to be specified.

Submission schedule

Article proposals (4000 characters maximum, spaces included), together with a short biographical note, should be sent

before 01 Sept 2020

to Nessim ZNAIEN

Authors will then be contacted within a month. Articles may be written in French or English, and must be no longer than 45,000 characters, spaces included. They must be submitted by 01 April 2021. For more information concerning the style guide and the editorial process, click here.

Journal scientific committee

  • Fariba Adelkhah (Ceri/Paris),
  • Denise Aigle (Ephe Islam médiéval/Paris),
  • Sohbi Bouderbala (Ifao/Le Caire),
  • Thierry Boissière (Gremmo/Lyon),
  • Olivier Bouquet (Université Nice-Sophia Antipolis/Nice),
  • Myriam Catusse (Iremam/Aix-en-Provence),
  • Jocelyne Dakhlia (Ehess-Iismm/Paris),
  • Stéphane Dudoignon (Cetobac/Paris),
  • Iman Farag (sociologue du politique et chercheuse indépendante/Le Caire),
  • Andrée Feillard (Case/Paris),
  • Masashi Haneda (Center of Oriental studies, Todei University/Tokyo),
  • James Mac Dougall (Université d’Oxford/Oxford),
  • Éric Gobe (Centre Jacques Berque/Rabat),
  • Élisabeth Longuenesse (Ifpo/Beyrouth),
  • Élise Massicard (Ifea/Istanbul),
  • Sabrina Mervin (Ceifr/Paris),
  • Arietta Papaconstantinou (Université de Reading/Reading),
  • Hassan Rachik (Faculté des Sciences Juridiques, économiques et Sociales de l’Université Hassan II/Casablanca),
  • Christian Julien Robin (Laboratoire d’études sémitiques anciennes/Paris),
  • Vincent Romani (Université du Québec/Montréal),
  • Ahmed Skounti (Institut national des sciences de l'archéologie et du patrimoine/Rabat),
  • Dominique Valerian (Université Lumière-Lyon 2 – Ciham/Lyon),
  • Jean-Pierre Van Staëvel (Université de Paris 4/Paris),
  • Éric Verdeil (Environnement, ville, société/Lyon),
  • Mercedes Volait (InVisu, Cnrs/Inha/Paris)


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