A conversation with Prof. Jamel Velji of Claremont McKenna College
Though the coffee plant was first discovered in Ethiopia over a millennium ago, few of us recognize that the daily brew so many of us rely upon to awaken our senses was a drink first domesticated and popularized by Muslims. After discussing some of the first Arabic texts that we have on coffee, Professor Velji will show how coffee’s Islamic heritage was transformed as the drink entered Europe. In the final section of this presentation he will consider how the mass marketing of coffee, from the nineteenth century to the present, has continued to make use of certain kinds of images and ideas related to Muslims. This presentation will help us to better understand the rich history of coffee’s Islamic past; how that past has shaped Western perception of Muslims; and how Islam’s formative role in coffee’s history has largely become forgotten.
Jamel Velji is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College. His work lies at the intersection between Islamic Studies and Religious Studies and is particularly concerned with the ways in which narratives, rituals, and symbols can effect social transformations. He has written extensively on various aspects of apocalypticism, and his book An Apocalyptic History of the Early Fatimid Empire is the inaugural volume of Edinburgh University Press’s series on Islamic Eschatology and Apocalypticism. His current research examines the Islamic history of coffee, and how that history becomes retold in various European and American contexts. Velji holds A Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, an M.A. in Islamic Studies from McGill University, and a B.A. in Religion from Haverford College.