Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Religion scholar offers historical perspective on Islam

Bruce Lawrence, the Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor of Religion at Duke University, examined the construction of the Muslim “enemy” when he spoke at Lehigh in early April.

Lawrence’s talk, which was attended by more than 100 students and members of the local community, was titled “Islam and the Muslim ‘Enemy’: Crusading From the 12th to the 21st Century.”

In his lecture, Lawrence highlighted the dangers of present-mindedness, said Robert Rozehnal, assistant professor of Islamic Studies at Lehigh, who worked with Lawrence as a research assistant on several projects at Duke.

“The past impacts the living present,” he said. “But we are not doomed to relive the past—we’re not stuck in an endless loop—unless we fail to learn from it. As we think about the long history between Christians and Muslims, we need to recognize both moments of conflict and efforts towards communication and dialogue. Professor Lawrence's talk had a broad historical sweep and deep implications for the present political environment. I know that students left with a lot of food for thought."

Rozehnal described Lawrence as “a scholar who studies the complex, global Muslim world of the 21st century. At the same time, he is a historian interested in how Islamic civilization has evolved over time, in incredibly diverse cultural environments.”

Following his talk on Tuesday, Lawrence met with faculty of the Global Citizenship program to discuss his latest book, New Faiths, Old Fears: Muslims and Other Asian Immigrants in American Religious Life.

He also met with several representatives of the local Muslim community, had lunch with members of the faculty of Lehigh’s religion studies department and students, and attended a dinner with several other members of the Lehigh faculty.

Lawrence has been on the Duke faculty since 1971. A graduate of Princeton University with a Master of Divinity from Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, he earned his doctorate at Yale University in History of Religions. There he was trained to engage West Asia (the Middle East ) and South Asia, with particular reference to the cultures and languages, the history and religious practices marked as Muslim.

He also studies non-Muslim religious traditions of Asia, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, while pursuing the turbulent reconnections of Europe to Asia forged in colonial, then post-colonial encounters.

His early books explored the intellectual and social history of Asian Muslims. Shahrastani on the Indian Religions (1976) was followed by Notes from a Distant Flute (1978), The Rose and the Rock (1979) and Ibn Khaldun and Islamic Ideology (1984).

Since the mid-80s, he has been concerned with the interplay between religion and ideology. The test case of fundamentalism became the topic of his award-winning monograph, Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt against the Modern Age (1989/1995). A parallel but more limited enquiry informed his latest monograph, Shattering the Myth: Islam beyond Violence (1998/2000), wherein he examines the thorny issue of religious pluralism and diasporic communities.

Lawrence also recently co-edited, with his wife, Miriam Cooke, the published volume, Muslim Networks: From Hajj to Hip Hop.

His talk was being sponsored by Religion Studies, the Chaplain’s Office, the Global Citizenship Program, International Relations, Asian Studies and the Global Union.

For more information, call (610) 758-3353.

Posted on Sunday, April 10, 2005

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