IUPUI professor’s new book examines ‘Islam in the African Diaspora’

'The Call of Bilal' cover

‘The Call of Bilal’ cover

A new book by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor Edward Curtis examines Islam in the global African diaspora, showing the many ways Islam is practiced by people of African descent while looking at the ways those practices have been influenced by their experience and interpretation of diaspora.

Bilal, whose mother was Ethiopian, is the historical figure whose rise from slavery inspired future Muslims of African descent to “claim his heritage as proof of their legitimate role as moral leaders for Muslims worldwide,” Curtis writes in “The Call of Bilal: Islam in the African Diaspora,” published by the University of North Carolina Press. Bilal not only rose to become Muhammad’s companion but was asked by the Prophet to call Muslims to prayer. He issued the adhan — the call to prayer — for the remainder of his life.

Curtis is the Millennium Chair of Liberal Arts and professor of religious studies at IUPUI. The concept for “The Call of Bilal” began for Curtis while he was visiting villages along the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley.

“In Jordan on one of my study abroad trips there for IUPUI, I met and spoke with many Muslims of African descent,” he said. “These encounters made me want to learn some of their stories, and to learn those of other Africana Muslims in the diaspora.”

The professor said that as he looked to African diaspora in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia, he came to understand better how Muslims of African descent sometimes dismiss the idea that they are part of an African diaspora. Others cherish the connections they have to African-descended people around the globe, though their political and cultural ideas about what binds them together differ.

He realized that the idea of diaspora was also sometimes interpreted in a religious fashion to emphasize the theological, ethical, aesthetic and ritualized elements of the African diaspora, orientations that linked the destiny of the black diaspora as much to the heavens as to the Earth.

Most Muslims in the African diaspora are Sunni Muslims, Curtis said, meaning that they identify with the majority tradition in Islam that makes incumbent certain basic interpretations of Islam (sometimes called the pillars of faith) and the “five pillars of practice” (the declaration of faith, daily prayer, fasting during Ramadan, pilgrimage to Mecca and alms for the poor).

“But what it means to be a religious Muslim beyond these shared traditions shatters any facile, American-based assumptions about the practices of black Muslims,” he said. “For example, I studied the prayers, healing rituals, instrumental music, singing, spirit possession ceremonies and dancing performed by some Siddi and Habshi Muslims in Pakistan and India at shrines devoted to their African ancestor saints, Bava Gor (or Gori Pir) and his sister, Mai Mishra. These saints are not household names among African American Muslims. (Generally speaking, the veneration of Muslim saints is not very popular in the Americas as opposed to in Africa and Asia.)”

Curtis encountered many surprises during his research, despite his long history of studying Islam.

“In the end, what seemed most important to me is that by studying Islam in the African diaspora, you can develop a very thorough understanding of Islamic tradition,” he said. “Since they have been part of so many Muslim countries and regions, their experience offers a wide view on what it means to be Muslim.”

IU consortium awards faculty grants for work on ‘Wonder and the Natural World’

The Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics and Society has awarded $51,248 to 11 faculty members from three IU campuses to further their research on the topic of “Wonder and the Natural World.”

This grant funding is the first phase of a two-year thematic initiative sponsored by the consortium on the theme of “Wonder and the Natural World.” The first phase will culminate in a daylong public symposium in May, at which funding recipients, along with invited guests, will present their works in progress.

“We received a truly impressive array of proposals, linking wonder to many facets of human and nonhuman life,” said IU Bloomington religious studies professor and consortium director Lisa Sideris. “The successful proposals reflect on the light and dark dimensions of wonder, as well as wonder’s ethical, emotional, cognitive, pedagogical, aesthetic and religious forms. It will be exciting to see the conversations that emerge from these diverse studies of wonder.”

The goal of the funding is to encourage faculty to engage with the idea of “wonder” in all its forms and in a variety of disciplines. The awardees cut across academic fields, including faculty in religious studies, English, bioethics and anthropology.

Heather Blair, assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at IU Bloomington, was awarded funding for her project “Super-Natural: Configuring Childhood Virtue in Contemporary Japanese Picture Books.”

“This project examines representations of the natural world in post-war Japanese children’s literature,” she said, “with a particular emphasis on contemporary picture books designed for children ages 3 to 6. Broadly speaking, it aims to introduce the study of Japanese children’s literature into ongoing conversations about childhood, character education, religion and ethics.”

Richard Gunderman, professor and vice chairman of radiology at the IU School of Medicine, will conduct research titled “Medicine: Wonder-less or Wonderful?” He seeks to explore the disconnect between what is taught at medical school, the dispassionate science of treating injury and disease, and the power of wonder for both the patient and the physician.

“Every time a physician sees a patient,” he said, “there is something awesome in bringing hidden things to light and assisting natural healing processes. Birth, death, illness, regeneration — these are the physician’s daily stock and trade, and they are pregnant with mystery.”

Other awardees and their projects include:

  • James Capshew, IU Bloomington Department of History and Philosophy of Science, “Bristlecone Pine: The Construction and Fate of a Scientific Wonder “
  • Edward E. Curtis IV, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Department of Religious Studies, “Elijah Muhammad’s World of Wonders: Astrophysical Disaster, Genetic Engineering, UFOs, White Apocalypse and Black Resurrection in the Nation of Islam”
  • David Haberman, IU Bloomington Department of Religious Studies, “Anthropomorphism without Anthropocentrism: Ritualized Ways of Enhancing the Experience of Wonder With Natural Phenomena in Devotional Hinduism”
  • Kelly E. Hayes, IUPUI Department of Religious Studies, “Intergalactic Space-Time Travelers: The Enchanted World of Brazil’s Valley of the Dawn”
  • Kelcey Parker, IU South Bend Department of English, “Living Nature: Surrealist Landscapes and Dreamscapes”
  • Phaedra C. Pezzullo, IU Bloomington Department of Communication and Culture, “‘Unprecedented, Unthinkable and Horrific’: Filipino Climate Justice Advocacy and The Sea Around Us”
  • Peter Thuesen, IUPUI Department of Religious Studies, “Wonder in the Whirlwind: Tornadoes as an American Sublime”
  • Michael Muehlenbein, IU Bloomington Department of Anthropology, and Vicky Meretsky, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, “Conservation Values, Personality and Motivations for Conserving Primate Populations”

The symposium, May 22, 2015, will provide a space for grantees to present their in-progress work to colleagues and the public. It will be followed in 2016 by an international conference to explore more deeply discussions of wonder and nature begun at the symposium.

About the Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics and Society

The Indiana University Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics and Society is an interdisciplinary association of scholars, academic programs and research centers from the eight campuses of Indiana University. The consortium’s mandate is to aid in the development of research to better understand religion, ethics, values and spirituality in society. The consortium receives support from the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at IU Bloomington, which is dedicated to supporting ongoing faculty research and creative activity, developing new multidisciplinary initiatives and maximizing the potential of faculty to accomplish path-breaking work.

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Michael Eric Dyson headlines event to honor outstanding IU School of Education alumni

Michael Eric Dyson

Michael Eric Dyson

Scholar of African American, religion and cultural studies Michael Eric Dyson is the keynote speaker for the third annual “Celebration of Transformational Educators” event presented by the IU School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

The event, at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Madame Walker Theater, 617 Indiana Ave., in Indianapolis, is free and open to the public.

Dyson is a well-regarded public intellectual who appears regularly on national television and radio and has published numerous academic works. The Chronicle of Higher Education calls him “one of the youngest stars in the firmament of black intellectuals” and “one of the most important voices of his generation.”

Dyson will keynote the annual awards ceremony for the IU School of Education at IUPUI, which recognizes outstanding early-career alumni who have conducted their work in an urban setting. A committee selects honorees from a pool of nominees. Each honoree receives a $1,000 award to advance his or her work.

The Steward Speaker Series is co-sponsoring the event as a part of its ongoing effort to bring some of the country’s top African American leaders and luminaries to Indianapolis to share their thoughts and work. The IUPUI Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a contributor to this event.

“We are very pleased to have a speaker of Dr. Dyson’s caliber to shine a positive spotlight on the work of our outstanding alumni who are, indeed, transformational educators,” said Pat Rogan, executive associate dean of the IU School of Education at IUPUI. “His message is sure to inspire.”

Dyson is the Ida B. Wells-Barnett University Professor at DePaul University. He has taught at Chicago Theological Seminary, Brown University, the University of North Carolina and Columbia University. He received his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, magna cum laude, from Carson-Newman College, and his Master of Arts and Ph.D. degrees in religion from Princeton University. He has provided commentary on American culture for “Nightline,” “Charlie Rose,” “Good Morning America,” “Today” and “Oprah.” He has also been heard on every major show on National Public Radio. He has written for numerous academic publications, including Cultural Critique, Cultural Studies, DePaul Law Review, The Leadership Quarterly, New Art Examiner, JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Transition, Social Text, Religion and Literature, Theology Today, Union Seminary Quarterly Review, Princeton Seminary Bulletin and Black Sacred Music.

Dyson’s 1993 debut book, “Reflecting Black: African-American Culture Criticism” won the Gustavus Myers Center for Human Rights Award in 1994. His critically acclaimed follow-up, 1994′s “Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X,” was named “Notable Book of 1994″ by both The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Dyson is also author of the acclaimed “Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture,” named a “Best Bet” by USA Today, and the national best-seller “Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line.” In January 2000, the Free Press published Dyson’s “I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.”

He has also written for many popular publications, including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Vibe magazine and Rolling Stone. Time, U.S. News and World Report, USA Today, Current Biography, The New Yorker, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Essence have profiled him. Dyson has lectured across the nation and throughout the world in countless colleges, universities and public auditoriums. He won the 1992 Award of Excellence for Magazines from the National Association of Black Journalists.

While the event is free, seating is limited. RSVP online by Nov. 17 to ensure your space.

Study: “The Bible in American Life”

UntitledThe year 2011 marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. It also marked the beginning of a three-year Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI ) study of the Bible’s place in the everyday lives of Americans.

With a $507,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture – a program of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI – set out to answer questions of how, where, when and why ordinary Americans use the Bible.

According to findings made public online in the 44-page “The Bible in American Life” report, the four-centuries-old King James Version of the Bible is far from dead. Despite its archaic language and a market flooded with newer, more modern English translations, more than half of the individuals and two-fifths of the congregations surveyed still prefer the King James Bible.

And of those surveyed, African Americans reported the highest levels of Bible engagement.

Seventy percent of all blacks said they read the Bible outside of public worship services, compared to 44 percent for whites, 46 percent for Hispanics and 28 percent for all other races.

Bible memorization is highest among black respondents, 69 percent, compared to 51 percent among white conservative Protestants and 31 percent among white moderate/liberal Protestants.

“There are no measures, individually or in congregations, where ‘black’ is not strongly correlated with the most conservative, most active, most involved level of scriptural engagement, no matter which other group comes closest,” the report says.

“If one wanted to predict whether someone had read the Bible, believed it to be the literal or inspired Word of God, and used it to learn about many practical aspects of life, knowing whether or not that person was black is the single best piece of information one could have.”

The report first looks at the practice of scripture reading in the United States, and then explores eight measures among those who read the Bible, such as Bible translation used; scripture memorization habits; favorite passages; and race.

Roughly half of Americans have read religious scripture outside of a public worship service in the past year. For 95 percent of those, the Bible is the scripture they read.

What did the study reveal about Bible readers?

Most of those people read at least monthly, and a substantial number – 9 percent of all Americans – read every day.

Women were more likely to read than men; older people were more likely to read than younger; Southerners were more likely to read than those of any other region.

The percentage of verse memorizers among Bible readers (48 percent) equates to roughly a fourth of the American population as a whole, or nearly 80 million people.

Psalm 23 – which begins “The Lord is my shepherd” – was the most popular Biblical passage.

Younger people, those with higher salaries and, most dramatically, those with more education among the respondents read the Bible on the internet or an e-device at higher rates.

The written report, based on survey questions on both the General Social Survey (1,551 individuals) and the National Congregations Study III (denominations represented among the General Social Survey respondents), is the first stage of the study and offers sociological data about the role of the Bible.

“Historians and sociologists have been working for years to understand how religion is lived out on a daily level,” said Philip Goff, executive director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture and one of the three principal investigators who led the study. “This gives us a good snapshot of the practice of Bible reading. That should also help ministers understand the people in their pews.”

Goff’s co-investigators are Arthur Farnsley, associate director of the center; and Peter Thuesen, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at IUPUI.

full article found here

Davis continues ‘telling stories’ in new novel with a twist to an old theme

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Stock Photo

INDIANAPOLIS — Thomas J. Davis’ third and latest novel brings something new to the age-old tale of a man selling his soul to the devil.

In The Devil Likes to Sing (Cascade Books), Davis, professor of religious studies and associate dean for academic programs in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, tells the story of Timothy McFarland, a failed theology student who begins writing fiction. Feeling he’s a hack, McFarland strikes a deal with Lucifer, who offers to shape him into a success.

“The book is a look at self-identity,” Davis said. “How we think of ourselves, who we are, whether or not we accept ourselves. Within all of us we have these self-doubts, thinking there is a way to change who we are that will make us more acceptable to others.”

Struggling with self-identity and self-doubt often opens protagonists up to searching for change.

“That’s where the notion of temptation comes in—at what price is one willing to make changes . . .” Davis said. “Once you hit the notion of temptation—especially for me, because I’ve spent my scholarly life studying the history of Christianity—the devil becomes an interesting tool by which to explore temptation because the devil as an image has the benefit of representing both an external force as well as something deeper, an internal struggle.”

Bringing something new to the age-old concept of the deal with the devil story was the author’s challenge. How could his devil differ from interpretations such as Milton’s Paradise Lost, the German myth of Faust, contemporary portrayals such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and even Saturday Night Live?

Davis’ solution is a devil who can be funny, witty and enjoy sublime Anglican church music as well as American rock and roll.

“The character needed balance—a balance of lightheartedness and darkness, gravitas and humor, familiarity and distance, friendship and contempt,” Davis said. “That was the hardest thing to maintain while writing the devil. He had to appear almost friendly, almost helpful, almost fun while currents of evil still ran beneath him. That had to leak out around the edges, but not too much.”

The Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor wanted to be a storyteller long before his first foray into fiction, but he focused instead on his education and academic career. The professor’s jump into novel writing was eventually triggered by boyhood memories of stories told by his father.

“My father was grieving about the disappearance of a way of life in the north Georgia mountains that he had known as a boy,” Davis says. “He would tell stories about when he was a kid, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to capture my father’s sense of wonder in a novel and write about north Georgia through his perspective.’”

That exercise grew into his first novel, The Christmas Quilt (Rutledge Hill Press), a story about a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother’s final months of life. The book earned a Reader’s Choice award and was a selection in the Doubleday Book Club. “That book came from my need to pay homage to my ancestry,” Davis said.

Storytelling also plays a role in his classroom. “Much of what I teach is the history of Christianity, and it tends to be very narrative driven—I tell a lot of stories in class,” Davis said. “I’ve noticed that students tend to be drawn in with a good story.”

In Davis’ new novel, the devil also takes the storytelling approach, only he twists religious history to suit his needs. Davis warns that the epigraphs that open the book—selections from Milton, Blake, and the New Testament on the nature of the devil—are important for the reader. The book also ends with a warning that readers shouldn’t take the devil’s word on matters of Christian faith and practices at face value.

“He is, after all, somewhat biased,” Davis said.

Curtis awarded for NEH Summer Seminar about Muslim American Identity

curtis-home

Edward E. Curtis IV

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in Washington, D.C, has announced that Edward Curtis, Millennium Chair of the Liberal Arts and professor of religious studies, has been awarded $114,438 to conduct a national seminar for school teachers on “Muslim American Identities, Past and Present.”

The three-week seminar, which will take place on the IUPUI campus in the summer of 2015, will give sixteen school teachers from around the country the opportunity to explore the history and diverse cultures of Muslims in the United States.

Participants will study thirty primary source documents, hear from two visiting experts, make field trips to two local mosques, and use the resources of the IUPUI University Library to complete individual research projects.

“My primary goal,” said Curtis, “is to nurture an environment of deep intellectual engagement and active learning in which school teachers can answer a key question of our historical moment: what does it mean to be both Muslim and American?”

In order to answer that question, Curtis will emphasize the impact of gender, race, ethnicity, and religious interpretation in the making of Muslim American identities.

The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, which has offered numerous seminars and professional development opportunities for young scholars and school teachers, will support the logistical aspects of the program.

Funding for NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes is provided by the federal government, and grants are awarded through a rigorous and selective process of peer review.

“Understanding the rich diversity of Muslim American identities in a balanced and informed manner,” Curtis concluded, “can be a powerful means of bridging cultures inside the United States and beyond.”

 


Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture offers conference on how Bible is used

391697_w296INDIANAPOLIS — Registration is now underway for a national conference that will culminate a three-year Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis study of how — outside of religious services – - Americans use the Bible in their daily lives.

The Conference on the Bible in American Life will take place Wednesday Aug. 6, to Friday, Aug. 8, at the Sheraton Indianapolis City Centre, 31 W. Ohio St., in downtown Indianapolis.

The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI is sponsoring the three-day event as part of the first large-scale investigation of the Bible in American life.

Noted historian Mark Noll of the University of Notre Dame will deliver a conference plenary address. Noll will present “The Bible: Then and Now” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7, at Christ Church Cathedral, 125 Monument Circle. Conference registration is not required for the plenary address, which is open to the public.

“While the Bible has been central to Christian practice throughout American history, many important questions remain unanswered in scholarship,” said Philip Goff, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, which is part of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.

Those unanswered questions include how people read the Bible for themselves, how denominational and parachurch publications have influenced interpretation and application, and how clergy and congregations have influenced individual understandings of scripture, the director said.

“These questions are even more pressing today, as denominations are losing much of their traditional authority, technology is changing people’s reading and cognitive habits, and subjective experience is continuing to eclipse textual authority as the mark of true religion,” Goff said. “Understanding both the past and the future of Christian communities in the United States depends, even if only in part, on a serious analysis of how these cultural shifts are affecting Americans’ relationship to the Bible.”

Earlier this year, the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture released a report about the Bible’s use based on a national survey of American Bible reading. During the upcoming conference, historians, sociologists, political scientists, seminary professors and religious leaders will offer analyses of the Bible in daily life that complement the report’s findings and will put those findings about the Bible’s use in a broader context.

Among the report’s many findings:

  • There is a 50/50 split among Americans who read any form of scripture (the Bible, the Quran, the Torah, etc.) in the past year and those who did not.
  • Among those who read any form of scripture in the past year, 95 percent named the Bible as the scripture they read.
  •  Despite the proliferation of Bible translations, the King James Version is the top choice — and by a wide margin — of Bible readers.
  •  The strongest correlation with Bible reading is race, with African Americans reading the Bible at considerably higher rates than others.

Seating for the three-day conference is limited, and advance registration is required. Registration before July 15 is $50; after July 15 it is $70.

Lecture: James F. Brooks, “Women, Men, and Evangelism in the American Southwest”

Dr. James F. Brooks, Research Fellow, School for Advanced Research
“Women, Men, and Evangelism in the American Southwest” 

October 17
IUPUI Campus Center Room 409
7-8pm
Support provided by the IUPUI Department of History

Tickets available for free here: https://jamesbrooks.eventbrite.com

James F. Brooks is an American historian whose work on slavery, captivity and kinship in the Southwest Borderlands has been honored with several major national awards, including he Bancroft Prize, the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize.  He is former President of the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

An interdisciplinary scholar of the indigenous and colonial past, he has held professorial appointments at the University of Maryland, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Berkeley, as well as fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and in 2000–2001, at the SAR itself. The recipient of more than a dozen national awards for scholarly excellence, his 2002 book Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship and Community in the Southwest Borderlands focused on the traffic in women and children across the region as expressions of intercultural violence and accommodation. He extends these questions most recently through an essay on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Pampas borderlands of Argentina in his co-edited advanced seminar volume Small Worlds: Method, Meaning, and Narrative in Microhistory from SAR Press.