Islamic Studies Initiative

The impact of Islam across the globe extends far beyond what appears in the daily news. Islamic societies have rich cultural and intellectual traditions in literature, art, architecture, mathematics, and science. Part of our common cultural heritage, Islam has been closely engaged with many of the world’s other great religions—Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity—historically and today.

For all its influence, Islam remains relatively unknown in the West, and its contributions to world culture are often misunderstood and underappreciated. With Islam so much in the spotlight, and so often the subject of uninformed commentary, the need for knowledge has never been greater.

Within the last decade the Divinity School has added two new faculty positions and established a PhD program in Islamic studies with extensive course offerings as well as interdisciplinary engagements with scholars throughout the campus. Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Islamic Studies Initiative seeks to build on that foundation to give Islam its deserved place in the mainstream of academic study at the University. The crucial requirement at this point is funding to ensure continuity and talent in faculty appointments, in graduate students, and in support for their work, on campus and abroad.

The outcome will be scholarship that bears the University’s likeness. It will be critical and nonsectarian as well as international. Often misunderstood as only a Middle Eastern religion, Islam thrives in South and Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and North America. Islamic studies at Chicago will reflect this geographic distribution, resulting in a truly global subject. The Islamic Studies Initiative will in future years yield a fully transdisciplinary approach to Islamic studies that examines cultures, social forms, and intellectual traditions the world over.