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Expanding the understanding of Islamic civilization

Nagihan Haliloglu taught courses in literature and religion studies this semester as a visiting scholar in the Center for Global Islamic Studies.

When Lehigh established the Center for Global Islamic Studies (CGSI) in 2009, it sought to create an intellectual community committed to the study of Islamic civilization. The Center is now bolstering the expertise of Lehigh faculty by inviting visiting scholars to share their perspectives and contribute to constructive dialogue on Islamic civilization and culture.

This semester, Nagihan Haliloglu joined the CGIS as a visiting scholar. Haliloglu holds an M.St. (master of studies) degree in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford and recently finished her Ph.D. dissertation, “Narrating from the Margins: Representations of Female and Colonial Selves in Jean Rhys’s Novels,” at the University of Heidelberg.

Robert Rozehnal, associate professor of religion studies and director of the CGIS, first met Haliloglu in her native Istanbul, Turkey, during a Lehigh study abroad program. Intrigued by a lecture she gave to Lehigh students on the changes and challenges of Muslim identity in contemporary Turkish society, Rozenhal invited Haliloglu to spend the spring semester at Lehigh.

“With her diverse background and interests in comparative literature, Nagihan was a perfect fit for the Center’s interdisciplinary program,” says Rozehnal.

Putting religious texts, and literature, in context

Haliloglu is currently teaching two undergraduate courses: “Islam: Texts and Practices” in the religion studies department and “Contemporary Muslim Literature” in the English department. She believes the two disciplines, literature and religion, complement one another.

“Reading the Qu’ran is similar to doing a close reading of literature. For both, we read the text and put it in context,” says Haliloglu. “This idea of reading in context is what literature is about, including religious texts.”

Many of Haliloglu’s students are history and international relations majors who are seeking to better understand Muslim life. She says many students are surprised by the common ground that exists among Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

“It’s interesting to see how little they know, which can be good because they have very little prejudices,” says Haliloglu. “In class we can decipher the truth from the misperceptions of Islam.”

Last week, Haliloglu presented a public lecture titled “An Alternative History of Women’s Emancipation from the Middle East.” Based on interviews held in 2004-05 in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Palestine, she discussed how Muslim women in those countries construct their own history of women’s emancipation.

At the end of May, Haliloglu will return home to Turkey to seek a permanent teaching position. She will also complete a translation of a 1,200-page text titled “Life of the Prophet” from Turkish to English.

Rozehnal says visiting scholars like Haliloglu help further the goals of the CGSI.

“In so many ways, Nagihan embodies the very spirit of CGIS and her dynamic presence on campus this semester demonstrates the true potential of international education,” he says. “In the years to come, we hope to bring numerous faculty to Lehigh—scholars with a wide range of expertise on the historical complexity and cultural diversity of global Islamic civilization.”

Story by Tricia Long

Posted on Wednesday, May 05, 2010

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