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Islam, the Humanities and the Human

In responding to the question, “what does it mean to be human?”, the humanities have long privileged the perspective of a secular elite Western male. Nevertheless, the humanities remain a vitally necessary space to develop attitudes that moderate techno-scientific approaches to the world and promote critical thought in a climate where truth and the very possibility of sociality are under threat. There is thus a vexing quandary between the discipline’s prejudiced origins and its vital role in today’s society. Our working group – Islam, the Humanities and the Human – employs the diversity of Islam and Muslim societies to transform the humanities. With it, we will establish a faculty seminar, develop an undergraduate curriculum, and organize campus events to address this conundrum.

Our group believes that the future of the humanities depends upon its radical reconfiguration – a transformation that must be achieved through the humanities’ estrangement of itself. Since Western humanities has historically defined itself in opposition to its racial and religious others, the study of Islam and Muslim communities offers the ideal material on which to enact this estrangement. To do so, the group will investigate key themes, including: Islamic origins of the humanities, the place of the orientalist study of Islam in the development of humanisitic inquiry, the grammars of humanistic expression and interpretation, visual and material cultures, the intersections of Islam and colonialism, Islam, race and the making of the Americas, and more. We approach these themes outside normative frameworks of belief and beyond the constraints of disciplinary and area studies. Rather, we are interested in meaning-making that takes Islam both as its foundation as well as its counterpoint.

This working group will contribute to the energy and dynamism of research and the overall intellectual culture of the RU-N campus. This group builds on both RU-N’s unique student body and its investments in faculty, particularly the Islamic humanities cluster hire of 2018. RU-N is positioned to be at the cutting edge of approaches to the study of Islam and the humanities due to these strengths. However, it can only achieve this through continued support of an intellectual community on campus. The three planned initiatives — faculty seminar, lecture series, and curriculum development — will bring faculty together to bolster our individual research, enrich the curriculum for students, lay groundwork for a Middle East and Islamic Studies major, and establish RU-N as a dynamic node for the study of Islam in the Northeast corridor.