Anthropologist to Present Humanities Lecture on the Muslim Headscarf at UA

Dr. Mayanthi Fernando
Dr. Mayanthi Fernando. Photo Credit: Melissa De Witte. 

Dr. Mayanthi Fernando, an anthropologist and ethnographer from the University of California at Santa Cruz, will present “Storytelling Against the Grain: Muslim Lives, French Myths, and the Power of Ethnography” Thursday, April 21 at 7 p.m. in room 205 of Gorgas Library on The University of Alabama campus.

The lecture is part of UA’s Hidden Humanities lecture series. The event is free and open to the public.

The Hidden Humanities lecture series was founded in 2014 to bring nationally prominent scholars and writers to UA to discuss the so-called “crisis in humanities.” Each lecturer is invited to address, head on, the positive contributions of the humanities to society at large.

In this lecture, Fernando will discuss social identities in nation-states and how Muslim religious practices and French secularism clash.

Fernando’s recent book, “The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism,” explores the headscarf crisis in France and the ongoing debate about Muslims within the secular nation-state. Her talk will explore these themes as well as the role of ethnography, the recording of people’s cultures and customs.

Dr. Russ McCutcheon, a professor and department chair of religious studies at UA, said Fernando’s work ties into Hidden Humanities’ goal of unveiling ways that work carried out in the humanities impacts how we understand the world today.

McCutcheon, who chairs the planning committee for this series, invites students to attend the lecture and leave with a new way of viewing global social identities.

“Scholarly skills like ones gained from humanities allow people to see just how messy the world is,” McCutcheon said. “I hope we prompt students to mull that over and consider the role that they play in their very attempt to make sense of it all.”

Fernando is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She has won several awards and honors including a Fulbright fellowship and a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Her next project studies the connection of sex and religion in modern secularity.

The goal of the Hidden Humanities series is to challenge the widespread notion that the humanities ought to be a low priority in education.

The lectures—two of which happen each academic year—are intended to clarify the nature of the debate over the importance of the humanities and shed new light on why intellectual disciplines at the heart of the modern university now appear to be so undervalued.

The Hidden Humanities lecture series is organized by UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes and Goldwater scholarships.