Ali Akbar, or, The Fighter Who Wouldn’t Fight: Ironies of Race, Religion, and Violence in Muhammad Ali’s Nation of Islam

06 Nov 2013


Muhammad Ali was managed—“syndicated”—not by the mob (like many other fighters) but by the Nation of Islam (NOI). This paper explores how the NOI constructed Ali as a usable black body: a distinct, exemplary figure of black manhood. Ali’s refusal to enter Vietnam is in many ways ironic—he becomes the fighter who wouldn’t fight. He relies upon the disjuncture inherent in this distinction to highlight a strong sense of self-determination in service of the NOI syndicate. This presentation profiles a number of similar ironies in NOI thought, belief, and practice pertaining to the body that reinforce the tensions contributing to the invention of Muhammad Ali and his role as an eiron (or dissembler) in African-American and transnational black culture c.1960-1975.

M. Cooper Harriss teaches courses in American and African-American religion and culture, and is finishing a book on the religious dimensions of Ralph Ellison's concept of race. This presentation comes from a new project on the concept of irony in African-American religion and culture. Harriss received his Ph.D. in Religion and Literature from the University of Chicago (2011).

Event Date: 
Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Sponsored By: 
Department of Religious Studies
2628 Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh