Duke alumnus returns to lead Islamic Studies Center


The new director of Islamic studies Omid Safi wants Duke faculty to fill in those key elements that are missing in the current public discussion on Islam. Photo by Jon Gardiner/Duke University Photography
The new director of Islamic studies Omid Safi wants Duke faculty to fill in those key elements that are missing in the current public discussion on Islam. Photo by Jon Gardiner/Duke University Photography

Omid Safi came to Duke two decades ago “a shy, geeky poor immigrant kid from Iran.” He returns now as a senior faculty member determined to repay a debt for allowing him “to dream dreams I didn’t even know I was capable of.”

The new William and Bettye Martin Musham Director for Islamic Studies, Safi takes leadership of a program at both a flourishing and contentious time for the study of Islam.  One public conversation on Islam tends to focus on the acts of armed groups, or self-proclaimed Islamists, but Safi said a larger conversation within Islam is also occurring, one that is both historic and welcome, although often less visible to the larger world.

“The visible public conversation about Islam right now is a crisis-driven one” Safi said. “The discourse jumps from Arab Spring to Libya to ISIS to Gaza and that’s understandable and driven in part by nature of corporate media.

“But that misses something dramatic and profound:  we are living in an age of excitement and ferment within the Muslim-majority context. Virtually every issue of import – gender, the relationship to the state, pluralism, who can interpret scripture, citizenship, resistance and violence – all are being debated in elite and popular circles.

“It would be unthinkable 25 years ago that large numbers of women, in bold fashion and all over the political spectrum are speaking out not just as subjects of religious discussions but as their articulators.  This is getting missed by the rest of the world, and I would like to shine a light on these debates and developments.”

Safi comes to the Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC) expecting DISC faculty be a prominent part of the public discourse around Islam.

Continue reading



Special Issue of the Islamophobia Studies Journal 

Islamophobia Studies Journal

Abstracts due:           October 10, 2014

Full Articles due:       March 2, 2015

This special issue of Islamophobia Studies Journal (ISJ) aims to generate and circulate new knowledge about the relationship between Islamophobia, gender, sexuality and racism.

It has been over a decade since the mediatization of events on 9-11-2001 created new forms and techniques of Islamophobia and brought along intensified scrutiny of politicized forms of Islam. Across the globe we note interactions between context-specific Islamophobia and its powerful transnational flows from elsewhere. We live in a world of increasing inter-connectedness, such that news, policies, images and practices can travel instantaneously between different sites. And in the current deepening economic crisis, we are witnessing an escalation of migration from postcolonial sites including Muslim-majority countries.

In this context gender, sexuality and race are enlisted in a variety of ways to legitimize and bolster Islamophobic discourses and practices. For instance, under the guise of saving women and queers from Arab and Muslim communities, Islamophobic colonial feminism and more recently imperialist concerns about “the status of homosexuality” has been used to legitimize invasions, occupations, war and destruction. Scholars have addressed some highly publicized examples, such as the occupation of Afghanistan that then U.S. President George W. Bush claimed, with the active support of colonial feminists, as a plan to “free” Afghan women from Afghan men. Islamophobia and Orientalism also guided the manipulation and deployment of queer sexualities in Abu Ghraib. While a plethora of examples abound, the analyses are very few. This project will shift that disconnect by providing a means to understand site-specific as well as transnational phenomena. Continue reading

submitted to TIRN on AUGUST 19, 2014: 


DATE : 14-15 January 2015
VENUE : Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

How have state and non-state efforts to distribute Muslims in time and space allowed for the containment of religious populations, or contributed to new manifestations of diversity and mobility? Did the contests between containment and connection generate new social, political, and ethical frameworks that might be construed through the explanatory framework of “Islamic cosmopolitanism”?

Islamic groups and individuals have long conceived of their faith as reflecting ideals of a broader universal community, a global umma. However, the actual practices and perceptions of what is considered the relevant boundaries and horizons of the Muslim community have varied across time and place. This international and interdisciplinary conference is designed to explore the interplay between projects of enclosure and the fashioning of cosmopolitan Islamic subjectivities in Asian contexts, historically and ethnographically. With the term “enclosure” we refer to those “productive” state and non-state projects designed to organize local populations within discrete geographic formations and homogenous religious communities. The term “Islamic cosmopolitanism” is used to broadly denote a broad range of open-ended identities, affiliations, and engagements that allowed Muslims to stake out positions in a wider, global frame. The larger goal of the conference is to explore the relationship between efforts to control Muslims in the lightly regulated “wild spaces” of Asia, and paradoxically, the subsequent mobilities, connections, and ethical frameworks of mutual obligation that grew out of such efforts. This workshop will bring together established and early-career researchers together to explore how faith-based identities are negotiated. Contributors may address spaces anywhere in Asia, and no temporal constraints apply. Continue reading

compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, TIRN on JULY 21, 2014:  

Here’s some more summer reading . If you have published an article, book, or other publication in the field and would like to share it please email julie.harbin@duke.edu. 

shared by JEREMY MENCHIK for TIRN on JULY 21, 2014: 

I would like to draw your attention to a paper of mine recently published in the journal Comparative Studies in Society and History:  Productive Intolerance: Godly Nationalism in Indonesia. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 56(3): 591-621.  [ungated]

Abstract: Since democratization, Indonesia has played host to a curious form of ethnic conflict: militant vigilante groups attacking a small, socially marginal religious sect called Ahmadiyah. While most scholars attribute the violence to intolerance by radicals on the periphery of society, this article proposes a different reading based on an intertwined reconfiguration of Indonesian nationalism and religion. I suggest that Indonesia contains a common but overlooked example of “godly nationalism,” an imagined community bound by a shared theism and mobilized through the state in cooperation with religious organizations. This model for nationalism is modern, plural, and predicated on the exclusion of religious heterodoxy. Newly collected archival and ethnographic material reveal how the state’s and Muslim civil society’s long-standing exclusion of Ahmadiyah and other heterodox groups has helped produce the “we-feeling” that helps constitute contemporary Indonesian nationalism. I conclude by intervening in a recent debate about religious freedom to suggest that conflicts over blasphemy reflect Muslim civil society’s effort to delineate an incipient model of nationalism and tolerance while avoiding the templates of liberal secularism or theocracy.

Jeremy Menchik is Assistant Professor of International Relations, Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University.
jeremymenchik.com is his web site.

Here is an essay published on ISLAMiCommentary in July by Assistant Professor of Islam and Ministry at Union Theological Seminary Jerusha T. Lamptey, based on her recently released book Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism (New York: Oxford, 2014).

9780199362783In the United States, interreligious collaboration has grown substantially in the last decade. While not triggered by September 11th, the horrific tragedy and trauma of that day certainly increased awareness of the need for interreligious collaboration. This has led to many interfaith dialogues aimed at learning about diverse traditions. It has also led to many interreligious efforts that focus on social justice and community welfare, including disaster relief, youth projects, food banks, and community health programs. The tide of interreligious engagement shows no sides of ebbing; it is not a passing fad. In fact, by all accounts, it is the new norm of mainstream religious communities, including American Muslims.

This practical, on-the-ground embrace of religious pluralism, however, is not automatically indicative of a theological embrace of religious pluralism. In fact, there frequently exists a vast disconnect between theological understandings of religious others and practical action. Some Muslims, for example, are fully committed to interreligious engagement and devote their lives to such work, yet still harbor exclusive theological commitments to the finality and superiority of the religion of Islam. Though from an Islamic standpoint, this does not mean that other religions are completely devoid of divine guidance or value, it nevertheless does imply that the ideal relationship with God is achieved only within the specific tradition of Islam.

Eventually — as is evident in contemporary Islamic scholarship and public discussions — questions about the relationship between practice and theology do arise. Is there any theological justification for practical interreligious engagement? Is it theologically acceptable to befriend and support people outside of one’s own tradition? Is it necessary to value the religious other in order to value interreligious engagement? Does an exclusive theological view negatively impact interreligious engagement, or worse even perpetuate conflict and violence? These questions may be prompted by particular interreligious experiences, but they cannot be answered in relation to those experiences alone. For Muslims, these questions direct them back to the central and most authoritative source for religious knowledge in the Islamic tradition: the Qurʾān.

The Qurʾān, however, does not offer a single or unambiguous perspective on religious pluralism and interreligious engagement. The Qur’anic treatment of these topics is in fact inherently complex. It explicitly and extensively discusses the topic, sometimes referencing specific religious groups, such as the al-naṣārā, yahūd, and ahl ul-kitāb (commonly translated as the Nazarenes/Christians, the Jews and the People of Scripture). But it also uses more general terminology, such as believers, hypocrites, disbelievers, and submitters with reference to members of various religious communities.

The Qurʾān also does not consistently depict religious pluralism as acceptable or unacceptable. At times, it is positively evaluated and at others it is blatantly scorned. READ FULL ESSAY

The following are the intros to Joseph Richard Preville’s two latest “By the Book” Q & As; published this May/June 2014 on ISLAMiCommentary. Happy Reading!

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

9780805091793-199x300How often do we hear from Afghans on their experience in America’s long and exhausting war in Afghanistan? Anand Gopal gives them a voice in his moving book, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes (Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2014).

Gopal, currently a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, covered the War in Afghanistan from 2008-2012 primarily for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. He was living in Manhattan on 9/11, and the shocking experience jolted him to investigate America’s response to the terrorist attack “on a strange and distant battlefield.”

As he travelled throughout Afghanistan, Gopal witnessed the chaos and the wreckage wrought by the “War on Terror,” which became a war of survival for the Afghan people trapped in it.

Gopal takes the title of his book from a Pashtun proverb: “There are no good men among the living, and no bad ones among the dead.” He learned this proverb from a war-weary Afghan man he interviewed.

Gopal writes that for this man, the proverb meant that “there were no heroes, no saviors, in his world. Neither side in the conflict offered much hope for a better future. The categories of the American war on terror – terrorists and non-terrorists, fundamentalists and democrats – mattered little, not when his abiding goal, like that of so many caught in the conflict, was simply to finish each day alive.”

Anand Gopal discusses his book in this interview. READ INTERVIEW

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

Israeli-American businessman, scholar, and activist Rabbi Shai Har-El’s new book — Where Islam and Judaism Join Together: A Perspective on Reconciliation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) — is a powerful meditation on how Jews and Muslims can discover the path to reconciliation, especially in the turbulent Middle East. Har-El shows how that path is illuminated by centuries of common history, shared Abrahamic values, and the fundamental human desire for peace and harmony. He also notes how much work needs to be done on the long journey ahead.

A noted ambassador for peace and reconciliation between Jews and Muslims, Har-El is the founder and current president of the Chicago-based Middle East Peace Network (MEPN). He established this organization in 1990 to serve “as a catalyst for action in the battle for peace in the Middle East.” MEPN believes in “faith diplomacy” and the power of individuals and groups to create peace and to heal conflict though direct action and concrete initiatives.

Born in Israel, Rabbi Har-El was educated at Tel Aviv University and the University of Chicago, and was ordained a rabbi in 2012.

He currently serves as President/CEO of Har-El Financial Group, an American financial consulting firm he founded in 1981. He is also working with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago to launch a Jewish-Muslim Reconciliation Initiative.

Rabbi Har-El discusses his new book (which follows his 1995 monograph, Struggle for Dominion in the Middle East: The Ottoman-Mamluk War, 1485-1491) in this exclusive interview. READ INTERVIEW

via WORLD BULLETIN on MAY 14, 2014: 

A Turkish cultural institute is holding exhibition of over two thousand manuscripts from the Ottoman Empire
A Turkish cultural institute is holding exhibition of over two thousand manuscripts from the Ottoman Empire

A sixteenth century Persian manuscript detailing the life of Turko-Mongol ruler Tamerlane and a copy of the Muslim holy book of Quran in Persian from the fifteenth century are the two of the highlights of an exhibition of manuscripts from the Islamic world on show in at the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts in Zagreb.

Organised by representatives from the Yunus Emre Institute and the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts in Zagreb, the exhibition opened Monday and will run till May 31.

The over two thousand manuscripts are from the Ottoman Turkey and were collections stored for centuries in family libraries in various Balkan countries; mainly Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, said Tatiana Paicvukic, an oriental history scholar in charge of the manuscripts at the Croatian Academy. They have been in Croatian Academy archives since 1927.