REL378: Islam in the Modern Age

Syllabi: Spring 2014 » Spring 2017

What is it about? (Previously Course Description)

Popular discourse often characterizes ‘Islam’ and ‘Modernity’ as two mutually exclusive points of view. Such attitudes are frequented exhibited in questions such as: “Is Islam compatible with democracy?” or “Does Islam give equal rights to women?” In light of such questions, this course aims to engender a nuanced appreciation of the various meanings of the terms ‘Islam’ and ‘Modernity’. The basic argument of this course is as follows: In order to understand the place of Muslim actors in the contemporary world it is better to conceive of ‘Islam’ and ‘Modernity’ as historical projects that are still in the process of being executed. Rather than assume that ‘Islam’ and ‘Modernity’ have fixed meanings, we will discover how these terms have come to represent varying (often vying!) political, social, cultural and spiritual aspirations at different moments in history. Most importantly, we will learn that even when viewed in isolation from one another, the respective visions of ‘Islam’ and ‘Modernity’ are varied and often suffer through deep internal tensions and conflicts.

We will begin with an examination of the phenomenon of ‘Modernity’, its origins in the Western Europe, its various interpretations and significance. We will then turn to a basic introduction to the Islamic tradition1 and its pre-modern intellectual, political and social landscapes. With this historical and intellectual understanding of ‘Islam’ and ‘Modernity’, we will examine how ‘Islam’ and ‘Modernity’ that had unfolded in different geographical spaces came to intersect during the Colonial age, both conceptually and within the lived experience of Muslims. The rest of the course will examine the intellectual, religious, sociopolitical and cultural transformations in the Islamic world due to this intersection and the response of Muslim thinkers and societies to the Modern ideals. We will conclude with the rise of postmodernity and globalization and the future of ‘Islam’ and ‘Modernity’.

Please note that this is not a course on Islam but on ‘Islam’s relationship to modernity’. Therefore, a nuanced appreciation of the meaning, values and phenomenon of Modernity in its various aspects is integral and crucial to the understanding of the subject matter.