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Course will explore "the dizzying complexity of today`s India"

Rob Rozehnal and a friend he made while visiting Senegal, West Africa earlier this year.

A six-credit, one-month summer program focusing on Islam in India will be introduced in May. Rob Rozehnal, assistant professor of Islamic studies and comparative South Asian religions, will lead the course, which is titled "Islam in South Asia: Sufi Saints and Muslim Missionaries."

The class will be co-taught by Matthew Nelson, a professor of political science at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

"This is a really unique and innovative program," Rozehnal says. "We'll be exploring the encounter between Islamic and Indian civilizations from multiple perspectives. India will definitely be a 3-D assault on the senses for students, in terms of its food, its social landscape, and the summer heat. This is designed to be a thoroughly atypical study abroad experience—an intense cultural immersion."

While in India, students will visit a number of significant Sufi shrines, mosques, and Hindu temples. The program will also benefit from the academic support of three prominent Indian universities: the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia, and Aligarh Muslim University.

“What education is all about”

An iconic image of a Sufi saint found throughout Senegal.

The course, which opens with a four-day introductory session on the Lehigh campus, will begin its exploration of India in Delhi and then proceed through the cities of Ajmer, Agra and Aligarh before returning to Delhi. Special emphasis will be placed on the history of Sufism and the context of contemporary religious reform.

Following the visit to the city of Ajmer in Rajasthan, students will travel to the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri, which was constructed during the end of the 16th century by Emperor Akbar. Included in this leg of the trip will be visits to the Sufi shrine of Shaykh Salim Chishti and to Agra, the home of the most famous Muslim monument in India: the Taj Mahal. The trip will conclude with several days in the town of Minali in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh.

Although the planning of the summer program in India dates back several months, Rozehnal said that his recent attendance at a West African Research Association workshop to discuss contemporary faces of Islam underscored his enthusiasm for the experience he has planned for a small group of Lehigh students.

"The international workshop in Dakar, Senegal, opened up an entire universe for me. It also reminded me what education is all about," he says. "We learn by being unsettled, out of context, and pushed and pulled in different directions. That's true for students and it's true for professors."

Understanding “the incredible diversity and dynamism of Islam”

A street scene in the port city of Saint Louis, Senegal.

Rozehnal says that through his classes and his writings (as in his forthcoming book, Islamic Sufism Unbound: The Chishti Sabiri Order in 21st Century Pakistan ) he attempts to account for what he calls the "truly global nature of the Muslim world.

"I think it's vital to remind students of the incredible diversity and dynamism of Islam around the globe,” Rozehnal says. “The lived reality is far more complex than what we see through daily news reports. South Asia is the demographic center of today's Islamic world. There are some 130 million Muslims in India, a minority community among a vast Hindu majority. There is no better way to communicate this than to get students out of the classroom and immersed in the dizzying complexity of today's India."

Rozehnal joined the Lehigh faculty in 2003 and was recently named a Frank Hook Assistant Professor. In addition to the history and practice of Sufism in South Asia, his research interests include ritual studies, postcolonial theory and religious nationalism.

The Lehigh in India course will run from May 15 through June 15, 2007. The cost of the program includes tuition for two courses (six credits), double occupancy housing for the duration of the course, and international airfare. Also included are an International Student ID card, a public transportation pass, field trips and all group activities. For more information, contact Rozehnal at (610) 758-3335 or by email at ror2@lehigh.edu.

--Linda Harbrecht

Photos by Rob Rozehnal

Posted on Friday, December 01, 2006

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