Dalmar Hussein on Identity and Ideology in Contemporary Somalia

Somalia in Context: Ideology, Clan Identity, and the Rise of Al-Shabaab in Contemporary Somalia

Dalmar Hussein

Friday, May 1st, 4:30pm

Swift 201

Reception at Ida Noyes Pub to Follow


Surveying Africa-oriented news media and political science literature  for possible causes of Somalia’s cultural and economic deterioration will yield three explanations: the civil war of 1991-1992, warlord dominance following the collapse of the federal government in 1991, and the influx of foreign-born “Jihadists” in the aftermath of American-led, post-9/11 incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq. By themselves, the explanations are not wrong, but they tend to miss something crucial: the social and political roles that clan identity plays in Somalia. By downplaying or ignoring clan identity, accounts about what has caused or accelerated social collapse – as well as proposed remedies for it – are partial at best, missing how clan has been manipulated by various political actors in Somalia to alter the way Somalis view themselves and their neighbors. The aim of my paper is to reintegrate clan (and clan-based identity politics) into the discussion and provide a richer account of the problems Somalia faces today.


Matthew Peterson on Jewish Ethics

Matthew Peterson (MA Student, Divinity)

“Between Halakhah and the Other: Navigating the Scope of Jewish Ethics”

Tuesday, April 14th, Noon

Swift 201


One recurring theme in modern Jewish thought has been the scope of its ethics. That is, upon whom can Jewish ethics make demands, whom can it address, and who may embody Jewish ethics appropriately? To address these questions, this paper puts into dialogue two figures who stand at opposite poles on the spectrum of concern. Emmanuel Levinas, a Jewish philosopher, offers an anthropocentric vision of Judaism that is about responding to the demands of the human Other and is therefore, I argue, universal. In contrast Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a philosophically-informed authority on Jewish law, offers a fundamentally theocentric view of Judaism, where to be Jewish is to respond to the call of the God of Abraham by following the laws of halakhah, and in this sense I argue its ethics are particular.

Two different positions come out of this conversation: a broad appeal to moral authority grounded in a religiously informed anthropology, and a traditionalist, identity-defined response rooted in religious law. While both positions support moral authority over autonomy, their divergence suggest the need for a more careful distinction between ethics as teleological and concerned with aims, and morals as deontological and concerned with norms. This clarification illustrates a common vision of Jewish ethics as aiming to create a better world through service to others with God in view, yet it also makes apparent two phenomenologically distinct ideas of the Jewish moral life. For Lichtenstein, Jewish morality is only incumbent upon him who is willing to live out the minutiae of a wholly Jewish existence, while Levinas sees Judaism as offering moral resources with which anyone can productively engage. Ultimately, at stake are questions about the applicability of moral norms, their relation to ethical frameworks, and a concern with incorporating tradition into modernity without losing that which constitutes the tradition as such.