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Department of Social Anthropology


Professor John R. Bowen, (Washington University in St Louis)

Material Semiotics of Halal Qualities

If for hundreds of years Muslims prepared their own foods and ate them, prefaced with a blessing, over the past 20 years or so there have arisen formalized procedures to determine whether or not a product is halal (“admissible”) to Muslims. Among factors pushing for formalized procedures have been anxieties over provenance and purity, on the one hand, and new technologies of governance and verification, on the other. I discuss two quiet different practices of gleaning meaning from the material: the building of chains of (paper, then scanned) certificates, verified through ‘table audits’ of a product’s history, and a hesitant turn toward science to test religious ideas about the transformation of a (non-halal) material into a halal one. The broader research project involves study of local ideas about verification, formal audit systems, and the increasingly intertwined cross-national trade in trust, based on work in six countries.

Friday, 16 February, 2018 - 16:15 to 18:00
Event location: 
Edmund Leach Room Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge