In a world increasingly governed by ideals of democracy and pluralism, this program explores both the evolution of religion and freedom in Islam -- focusing on the recent rise of intellectual reform and the role of the religious intellectual -- as well the debate surrounding these changes.
Featuring Baber Johansen, Professor of Islamic Religious Studies at Harvard Divinity School; Ebrahim Moosa, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University; and Abdulkarim Soroush, philosopher, reformer, Rumi scholar, and former professor at the University of Tehran. Talal Asad, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center, moderates the discussion.
Talal Asad is an anthropologist at the City University of New York who has made important theoretical contributions to Post-Colonialism, Christianity, Islam, and Ritual Studies and has recently called for, and initiated, an anthropology of Secularism.
Using a genealogical method developed by Friedrich Nietzsche and made prominent by Michel Foucault, Asad "complicates terms of comparison that many anthropologists, theologians, philosophers, and political scientists receive as the unexamined background of thinking, judgment, and action as such. By doing so, he creates clearings, opening new possibilities for communication, connection, and creative invention where opposition or studied indifference prevailed."
Baber Johansen was appointed Professor of Islamic Religious Studies at Harvard Divinity School in 2005. His research and teaching focus on the relationship between religion and law in the classical and the modern Muslim world. He served as Directeur d'Atudes at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Centre d'Atude des normes juridiques), Paris (1995-2005), and Professor for Islamic Studies at the Freie Universitat Berlin (1972-1995). In 2006 he was appointed Affiliated Professor at Harvard Law School and Acting Director of its Islamic Legal Studies Program for 2006 to 2010. In 2007 he was affiliated with the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.
Ebrahim E.I. Moosa is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University. His interests span both classical and modern Islamic thought with a special focus on Islamic law, history, ethics, and theology. Moosa is the author of Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination, winner of the American Academy of Religion's Best First Book in the History of Religions (2006) and editor of the last manuscript of the late Professor Fazlur Rahman, Revival and Reform in Islam: A Study of Islamic Fundamentalism. He was named Carnegie Scholar in 2005 to pursue research on the madrasas, Islamic seminaries of South Asia.
Widely considered to be Iran's leading public intellectual, Abdulkarim Soroush was born in Tehran in 1945. After studying pharmacy and earning his doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of London, he then spent over five years at Chelsea College, where he studied history and the philosophy of science. A broad scholar in many fields, Soroush is also an expert in Koran interpretation, Rumi, and Persian poetry. Dedicated to reform, many of his works attempt to give a new interpretation of the shari'a drawing on the fields of jurisprudence, hermeneutics, and sociology.
Ebrahim Moosa traces the fundamentalism of extreme Islamists to a lack of literacy about Islamic law and tradition. He says very few resources are put into studying and understanding the historical context of Sharia, giving way to "demagoguery and rhetoric."