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Mediating Modesty: Emma Tarlo

15 June 11

Emma Tarlo: Meeting in Modesty? Jewish-Muslim encounters online

London College of Fashion, 15th June 2011

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To listen to other presentations and discussions at the symposium, use the links on this and linked pages and click here for the introduction..

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Profile: Emma Tarlo is a Reader in Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her long-term research interest is in the anthropology of dress, material and urban life in India and Britain, and she has published recently on Muslim dress, in Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith [2010]

Abstract: One of the accusations often levied against members of religious communities who assert their identity and faith through dress is that they seem to endorse, and to a large extent, encourage social segregation. In this context faith specific dress acts as a boundary marking mechanism which maintains the separation and assumed incommensurability of one faith community with another.

It is within this context that this paper sets out to investigate to what extent the notion of modest fashion as promoted online is operating as a new meeting point for religiously oriented Jewish and Muslim women keen to assert their modesty, identity and faith through dress. It examines the different channels and forms of interfaith engagement enabled through the online marketing, discussion and transmission of fashions as modest. It asks what these moments of interfaith engagement tell us about the points of convergence between Muslim and Jewish ideas of modesty? To what extent are similarities in understandings of modesty recognised and encouraged? To what extent are feelings of sympathy and identification stimulated through the process of online interaction itself or through shared appreciation of particular products and tastes?

“Fashion is a tool for creative self-expression, and as with any tool it can be used for good or evil. Each person and community has its own level of sensitivity” [Contributor to Imamother.com]

Whilst the paper argues that the market for modest fashion online is acting as an important new arena for interfaith engagement which challenges stereotypes of closed and inward facing religious communities, it also suggests that faith-bound pre-occupations with the importance of maintaining visual distinctiveness serve to place limits on the potential of “modest fashion” to absorb and replace faith based fashion. This raises the question of whether the levels of contact made possible through modest fashion are likely to remain just that – modest!

At the end of each session the speakers responded to comments and questions from the audience. Follow this link to listen to the discussion following this presentation.

Report and podcasts compiled by Norman Winter. Recordings of the symposium sessions are substantially complete, but may have been edited in small ways for technical and other reasons.

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