CFP | Little Meccas

Sharon Ong's picture
Call for Papers
September 30, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Arabic History / Studies, Southeast Asian History / Studies

This event is organised by the Muhammad Alagil Chair in Arabia Asia Studies at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.

Mecca is a very special place. Its significance as the destination for Muslims has carried over into the English language as a term for the destination in most any field of human endeavour – the mecca of x. For Muslims far away, Mecca has figured as a centre of the world – as the annual hajj pilgrimage destination, a figural homeland, a major concourse for trade, scholarly and religious networks, and a transregional source of symbolic power, material resources and responsibility for its custodians. At the same time, there exist other, key historical-regional Muslim centres across the Old World. Referred to by monikers such as “Little Mecca of X”, “Second Mecca/Ka`ba”, “Portico of Mecca”, places such as Linxia in China, Tuyoq near Turpan in Altishahr, Ush in Kyrgyzstan, Ponnani in Malabar, and Aceh in Indonesia played outsized roles as transregional destinations, literally or figurally. As sites where oral and literary narrations, pilgrimages, trade and transport routes, scholarly networks and doctrinal movements coalesced and dispersed in different combinations, they became famous destinations that emanated a certain aura.

Such religious centres, which became known through prayer litanies, poetry, travellers’ tales, folk narratives and symbolic associations, have been relatively neglected in scholarship over the past three decades of globalization mania, even as some of them have gained in popularity. Globalization’s massification of logistics, celebration of global cities and social media posts seem to have exacerbated a profound cultural trend of the past two industrial centuries, which is the retreat of figural understandings of the world, and their supplantation by literal ones. Or has globalization’s effect been the opposite, in the case of some rejuvenated Little Meccas?

Our topical focus on Little Meccas is driven by two propositions: 1) that over-literal understandings of religious centres are anachronisms that put blinders on interpreting historical materials, which are replete with figural descriptions; 2) and that such blinders prevent researchers from understanding how the various dimensions of Muslim mobility were interwoven or concatenated in the Little Meccas that stand at their nexus. We seek to understand the dynamics of concatenation such meeting points host, through which they rise in fame or aura, decline, are rejuvenated, become hotspots of contestation, or projects for social, sectarian, ethnic or governmental interests. The geographical scope and scale of such dynamics tends to be transregional and intermediate, rather than global or local, and this is where we expect to find rich research material, whether historical or contemporary, literal or figural.

We invite scholars to present papers on Little Meccas in Singapore on 1 and 2 December 2022. We welcome contributions that discuss any aspect of such centres, such as those discussed above, or others. Contributions on Mecca and relevant centres for comparative discussion are also welcome.


Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (250 words maximum) and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission. Please use the paper proposal form and send it in doc/docx format to Sharon at by 30 September 2022.

Successful applicants will have their travel and accommodation costs covered to enable them to present their papers at this conference. Please also include a statement confirming that your paper has not been published previously, is not committed elsewhere, and that you are willing to revise your paper for potential inclusion in a special issue or volume (in collaboration with the workshop organisers and other participants).

Successful applicants will be notified by mid October 2022. Panel presenters should submit draft papers circa 4000 words by 18 November 2022. These drafts will be circulated to fellow panelists and organisers in advance.


Prof Engseng Ho 
National University of Singapore, and Duke University

Dr Abdul Jaleel PKM
National University of Singapore

Dr Janice Hyeju Jeong
Goettingen University

Dr Yang Yang
National University of Singapore

Contact Info: 

Sharon Ong (she/her)
Workshop Secretariat

Contact Email: