This seminar will examine issues of religious identity and diversity. The United States is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world. Academic discourses and publication on religious harmony, tolerance, pluralism, and freedom have developed significantly. Yet religious diversity also takes other forms: religious tension, conflict, violence, terrorism, and discrimination. The terrorist shootings in San Bernardino near Riverside, the killings in Orlando, the shootings of Sikhs, and the 2016 Presidential Campaign, have raised fears of an increased Islamophobia. The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian civil war, and the Muslim Rohingya issue in Buddhist Burma, have raised tension and public debate about the role and impacts of religious identity more globally. This seminar will consider questions of religious identity and diversity, violence and peace, discrimination and harmony, hate speech and love activism, and the vexed relation between religion and politics. Undergraduate student support provided by a gift from Ada Berman and Brent Bradley.
Georgia Warnke, Convener/Distinguished Professor of Political Science
Stephen El-Khatib, Graduate Student, Political Science
Stephen Omar El-Khatib is a political science PhD student at the University of California, Riverside. El- Khatib’s research primarily focuses on the politics of race, immigration, and ethnicity through the lenses of behavioral and comparative politics. Much of El-Khatib’s existing and continued work evaluates discrimination and public policy, and is inspired by his experiences as a first-generation Arab-American Muslim.
Research: The Muslims Next Door: How Proximity to Mosques Impacts Political Attitudes | Reports of hate crime, vandalism, and protest targeting religious establishments have exponentially increased over the past decade in the United States. This study seeks to understand whether proximity to outgroup religious establishments impacts national policy attitudes. We contend that proximity to places of outgroup religious congregation activates outgroup threat and drives individuals to support invasive government surveillance programs. To test our claims, we develop an innovative dataset which geographically contextualizes responses captured by election studies surveys in proximity to various religious establishments. We demonstrate that non Muslim proximity to Muslim places of congregation increases support for the National Security Agency’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Additionally, we conduct interviews in and around neighborhoods with minority religious establishments to provide further evidence of such a proximal impact and to rule out potential endogenous confounders. Our results confirm our initial hypotheses, and provide critical nuance previously missing within the extant literature. Additionally, we further prevailing theories that speak directly to racialization, out-group contact, and threat.
Hassanah El-Yacoubi, Graduate Student, Religious Studies
Hassanah El-Yacoubi is a doctoral student in Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside. She focuses on women in Islam, specifically on the role identity and body politics have played in reversing the narrative on American Muslim women. Her research revolves around emerging Muslim subjectivities cultivated by millennials through the global phenomenon of Islamic fashion, which has altered the ways in which Muslim identity is performed and perceived. She is also a leading fashion and lifestyle blogger where she is dedicated to creating cross-cultural and inter-religious understanding through fashion, and was ranked as a top modest fashion influencer by The Huffington Post.
Research: The female Muslim body has been tainted by the agonizing effects and aftermath of European colonialism. For centuries, Muslim women have been depicted as “downtrodden”, “second class citizens”, “oppressed”, “subjugated”, “secluded”, “women of cover”, “caged virgins”, etc. throughout Western and orientalist discourses, literature, and mainstream media. Yet, recently these views have been disrupted through mediated and material practices such as the Muslim modest fashion global phenomenon. This research study will examine the ways in which many Muslim women living in the West are articulating new forms of self-expression through performance and corporeality within the public sphere in ways that challenge the hegemonic discourses that have traditionally framed the debate around Islam, the body, and religious identity. Female Muslim subjectivities are in a constant state of negotiation defined through or in reaction to the discourses and knowledge constructed about Muslim womanhood. Western representations of Muslim women depict a homogenized and afflicted group of women with foreign dress codes and cultural ways. Yet, the modest fashion phenomenon serves as an epistemic project that destabilizes hegemonic narratives and discourses on veiled bodies in the twenty first century through an epistemological corrective and articulation of normativity. How can we account for this cultural shift in history where Muslim women are experiencing heightened levels of inclusivity, visibility, and representation throughout mainstream media, markets, and pop culture? This project will explore the ways in which Muslim women are giving new meaning to the performance of their marked bodies through modest fashion by asserting the visual value of their voices and bodies.
Katja Guenther, Associate Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies
Katja M. Guenther is Associate Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies. Her research focuses on gender, social movements (particularly feminist activism and gender politics), and critical animal studies. She is the author of Making Their Place: Feminism After Socialism in Eastern Germany (Stanford University Press, 2010), and her papers have appeared in Gender & Society, Journal of Contemporary Religion, Politics & Gender, Signs, Social Movement Studies, Social Problems, and Sociological Forum, among others.
Research: During the Mellon Seminar, Professor Guenther will be engaged with examining how the organizational culture of New Atheist Movement reproduces gender inequalities and excludes women, even in the absence of explicitly sexist organizational ideologies and the presence of a purported commitment to gender egalitarianism. She will consider how this movement engages in gender avoidance, or the failure to interrogate ideologies, beliefs, and practices that support the persistence of gender inequalities. Her work further considers how the New Atheist Movement uses the foil of the gender practices of Mormons and Muslims to position itself as woman-friendly. The paper she will be working on during the workshop period, which draws on extensive interview and ethnographic data with participants in the New Atheist Movement, will comparatively analyze how the New Atheist Movement uses claims about the gender dynamics of Mormonism and Islam as a basis for building movement identity, even as the movement seeks to counter discrimination and promote religious equality and does little itself to integrate women.
Danielle Kennelly, Undergraduate Student, Middle East & Islamic Studies
All my life I have loved learning. I love learning about different cultures, religions, and languages. I am also passionate about political justice and human rights. Because of this, I found a happy balance studying both Middle East and Islamic Studies as well as Political Science at the University of California, Riverside. I am so blessed and recognize the privilege that I have to advance my education, and I desire to use what I have learned to fight for social and political equality in our world. I am passionate about LGBTQ+ rights, religious rights, women’s rights, just immigration law, and ending the racism that prevails in our society, constitution, and criminal justice system. I believe in putting words into action, and am excited about my future in law and politics to help bring a change to our world.
Research: My research project will cover the complex and controversial idea of the separation of church and state, mainly focusing on the narratives that surround Christianity and Islam in the United States. Many Americans claim that they desire the separation of religion in our constitution, government, and overall political system, yet Christianity prevails throughout American politics. “IN GOD WE TRUST” is plastered across American dollars, our national anthem claims that we are “one nation, under God,” and each year the White House proudly displays a Christmas tree. However, this does not seem to be an issue to many Americans. While many secularists fight for religion to remain outside of schools, that appears to be where the conversation ends. Comparatively, Islam does not share the same privilege. In mainstream media, messages and images of “Sharia Law” are plastered everywhere, depicted as a controlling, dangerous, and undemocratic system of authority that will end with America in shambles. Therefore, my research project will analyze this difference between the two religions in the American political sphere, diving into the prevalence of Islamophobia in the United States. I seek to answer where this tension derives from, what fuels it, how these disparities influence the views of American citizens on the two religions, the hypocrisy of many American Christians, and the repercussions that Muslim Americans face due to this inequality.
Maria Larrea, Undergraduate Student, Religious Studies & Philosophy
I am a “non-traditional” student, whose interest in majoring in Philosophy and Religious Studies were inspired by traveling the world for the past 15 years to better understand those religions, cultures and conflicts. I chose to grow and understand my views and philosophies by learning and experiencing others’ views, cultures and religions. The diversity of my travels includes: The Amazons (staying with the Achuar Indians); the Galapagos (theory of evolution); Bali (Hinduism); Mexico (Catholicism and ancestral traditions); Peru (Christianity and mysticism in the Andean traditions); Hawaii (Christianity and shamanism for 8 years); Sedona, AZ (Christianity and Hopi traditions for 2 years); as well as Italy, Greece and Egypt (Catholicism, philosophy, Islamic and ancient religions). In my travels I have personally experienced the conflicts produced by the diversity of and misunderstandings in religion.
Research: My focus is on the Abrahamic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam and their belief in the same God, the God of Abraham. I am interested in their common aspects (Monotheism, Theological continuity, importance of Jerusalem & significance of Abraham); their differences (worship and religious rites, circumcision, food restrictions and sabbath observance); and dialogue between these religions. Statistically, as of 2005, estimates that 54% of the world populations are adherents of the Abrahamic religion. As of 2012, the statistics remained similar, with a slight increase, worldwide; 33.51% Christians (2.4 billion), 23% Muslims (1.6 billion) and .2% Jews (14 million). My interest and why I picked this topic is because I want to better understand why over 50% of the population, with similar origins, seem to be so divided and are the differences so vast that understanding and respecting each other ever be achieved. Historically, religion has been at the center of conflicts; this is not a thing of the past. Today, the reality is that numerous conflicts in our world are religious in nature. To claim that the motivations for conflicts today are only social, economic or political is to elude peace. Thus, the easiest way to possibly bring about reconciliation is through dealing directly with the religious issues. It is interesting to note that each of the three religions adhered to creating peace even though they may not have begun in peace. The question I would like to explore, on the basis of a particular case study, is why is there the belief that “my God is bigger than your God, when they are the same God?”
Carly Maris, Graduate Student, History
Carly Maris is a doctoral candidate in the UCR History Department working under Professor Michele Salzman. She holds a B.A. in Medieval Studies from UC Davis, and an M.A. in Classics from UC Irvine. Carly’s research primarily focuses on the transmission of cultural objects from West Asia into Rome for military parades, using theories in Public History to provide theoretical frameworks through which to view the role of processions in ancient communities. Carly likewise is interested in the destruction of ancient sites and objects in contested areas in the Middle East. In 2017 Carly founded Voices of Ancient Palmyra, a project dedicated to making publicly available translations of ancient Palmyrene inscriptions for anyone to use, and to provide a platform for students of history to engage actively in preserving Ancient Palmyrene history, through new media and artistic recreations.
Research: The tensions and negotiations that occurred between religious institutions, political representatives, and ethnic groups are important for understanding the maintenance and expression of empire in and over territories in Ancient Syria, especially during the period of Roman imperialism. This project looks at one particular historical moment in ancient Syrian history–the Roman invasion under Emperor Aurelian in 272 CE–and focuses on the relationship between the Roman emperor and local Christian communities. At this time, the empire of Palmyra had risen in power and had fought for control of Syrian territories, having recently rebelled against the Romans in the region. While scholarship has explored the ethnic identities of local communities involved in the rebellion and war with Rome, this project focuses on the role Christian communities played in the wars for imperial control over Syria. According to several ancient authors, notably Eusebius, Emperor Aurelian worked with local Christian communities to remove Palmyrene-supporting officials from the region. However, these sources also say that Aurelian was later planning a Christian persecution, but was killed by his troops before he could begin the enterprise. This project looks to further discussions about Aurelian’s treatment of Christians, and the role Christian groups played in the negotiation of empire over Syrian territories, by exploring the relationship between Syrian Christians and Aurelian during the Roman campaign in the East. To do this, I examine contemporary inscriptions in Syria, looking at evidence that reveals the networks of ethnicity and Christianity that existed during the time of Aurelian’s Eastern campaign.
Rewa Ousman, Undergraduate Student, Global Studies
I have always been passionate about religious tolerance and human rights and hope to make a law and activism career out of these in the future. Being a first-generation Syrian and Muslim American, I understand what it means to be a target in a marginalized community and how my identity can be used for and against me. For this reason, I am pursuing a degree in Global Studies to better understand the social, political, and economic forces that allow discrimination and marginalization to be strongholds in our global society and how to counteract these forces while uplifting suppressed communities.
Research: There is a misconception that all Muslim women share the same religious identity: they are submissive to their male counterparts and forced to bargain with patriarchy while they devote themselves to a God who allows for their inferiority to prevail. Being a Muslim woman myself, I understand that there are many hidden crevices behind a Muslim woman’s veiled religious identity. Through the acquiescence of empirical evidence, I hope to put names to the faces of the Muslim women who interpret their religious identities in ground-breaking ways that defy the stereotypes attached to these women. I hope to uncover the diverse relationships various Muslim women have with God and how these relationships motivate them rather than hinder them in their endeavors. Perhaps most important of all, I wish to give these women the opportunity to interpret their own religious identity on their own terms and in their own words. Therefore, I will be analyzing these women’s distinctive religious identities and how they connect to social stigma in order to unveil the spaces and communities they have cultivated for themselves. The research will mostly consist of women who are immigrants or first-generation Americans; thus, the American social structure will be examined by myself and the respective women whom I interview in order to acquire a well-rounded understanding of the social forces that uplift and/or hinder Muslim women. This research will not uncover one overarching religious identity, but will be an accumulation of Muslim women’s own interpretations of their identity through the universal teachings of Islam.
Rabea Qamar, Graduate Student, Education
Rabea Qamar is a doctoral candidate in the Education, Society and Culture program at the University of California, Riverside. Her research interests include religion and education, ‘racialization’ of religion, stigmatized identities in education, K-12 and higher education campus climate, and critical race theory. Her dissertation research examines the political and cultural ‘racialization’ of Muslims in the US, its impact on Muslim youth’s experiences in schools, and its influence on their participation and sense of community in schools.
Research: Although Muslims represent only 1% of the total US population (Lipka, 2016), Islamophobia and fear of Muslims are rampant throughout the media. Politicians often use terminology (e.g., radical Islamists or Islamic extremists) that implicates the whole of Muslim population as prone to extremism and violence. Such discourses and representations may contribute to increased anti-Muslim hate crimes, including harassment of Muslim children in schools (Mogahed & Chouhoud, 2017). I focus on the representation of Muslims in textbooks and curricular materials used in high school History and Social Studies courses. In particular, I will explore textbook definitions of ‘terrorism’, discussions of September 11, the type of representation given to Muslims, and the amount of textbook space given to understanding this population. This research project will also draw from recent events and rhetoric that do not support protections for Muslim youth against harassment in schools, and resist additional content for understanding Islam and Muslims. This project is a part of my dissertation research, which will examine the representations and experiences of Muslims in high schools. The project will draw on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the concept of ‘racialization’ to examine textbooks. Though CRT and the concept of ‘racialization’ are used to discuss race and its social construction, I will use both to discuss the ways Islam and Muslims may be racialized (given racial meaning) in high school History and Social Studies textbooks. I use ‘racialization of religion’ (Joshi, 2006) to examine the ways textbook discourse and assumptions may portray archetypal images of Muslims and perceptions of Islam that are similar to the ways Muslims are perceived outside of school.
Anai Reyes, Undergraduate Student, Philosophy & Psychology
Research: The Mellon Advancing Intercultural Studies seeks to explore the topic of religious identity. I seek to investigate how this identity is built through the identity given to deities. In other words, how do the various perceptions of one’s deities or universal forces affect how an individual or culture participates in the world? This question will look at several religions and philosophies to analyze the relationship between God’s character and how it manifests in human life. Versions of God within various branches of Christianity will be examined and compared to the lifestyle that is encouraged within each sect. Does the image of a merciful God correlate to a passive, accepting lifestyle? Does the image of an all-powerful supreme result in a less active participation in one’s own life? Does a just deity encourage human beings to be more just in their actions?
Howard Wettstein, Professor of Philosophy
B.A., Yeshiva University, 1965; Ph.D. City University of New York, 1976. Currently Professor of Philosophy at UC Riverside. I have held positions at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Minnesota, Morris and visiting positions at Stanford University and the University of Iowa. My main research areas are philosophy of religion and philosophy 0f language. I am editor of Midwest Studies in Philosophy since 1974. My latest book is The Significance of Religious Experience ((Oxford UP, 2012). I published two volumes in the philosophy of language, The Magic Prism (Oxford UP, 2004) and Has Semantics Rested On a Mistake? (Stanford UP 1991).
Research: An open, honest exploration of our religious traditions would reveal both light and dark. Surely there is great emphasis on love for one’s brothers/sisters, as well as for the other, the stranger, the outcast, for the poor, the needy, the orphan, and the widowed. We often emphasize such caring when we talk about our own traditions. What others emphasize about traditions not their own is sometimes much less attractive but equally correct, that there has been support in our traditions for slavery, religious war, vengeance, and varieties of discrimination. And even where there is scant scriptural support for some of these things, the traditions have found a way to sanction all manner of inhumanity. My aim in the work I will do as part of the spring 2018 seminar is to explore reactions within the traditions to the dark side of those traditions. How does an honest and committed member come to terms with aspects of her tradition of which she is not proud? I will begin with my own tradition, Judaism, to explore how people have confronted evil from within. My secondary aim is to begin to look at the other Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Islam, with an eye to the same question.
Stephanie Wilms, University Writing Program Lecturer
Stephanie Ann-Wilms Simpson received her PhD in United States History with an emphasis in “Race and Culture” from the University of California, Riverside. She teaches composition courses for the University Writing Program at UCR, and is currently revising and expanding her dissertation project on Moorish Science into a full-length monograph: Teach Them “Love Instead of Hate”: A History of the Early Development of Islam in the United States, The Moorish Science Temple of America. She is also working on a project on racial literacy and beginning her second historical study of Reggae music and Rastafarian religious culture in California.
Research: Bridge Mothers, Brides, and Daughters: A Comparative Study of Women in the Moorish
Science Temple of America and the Nation of Islam | The first annual convention of Moorish Science, held in September 1928 in Chicago, IL, opened with a testimonial from a Moorish sister from Ohio’s Temple No. 5. She stood up before the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) and proclaimed, “I am glad I am not a Negro.” Her speech touched on the transformative qualities that were attractive to converts of Moorish Science. Women in MSTA were tasked with providing the necessary “education for conversion” and were thus a primary component of the movement. In the early years of MSTA especially, women maintained a high profile and their contributions to the growth of the movement was significant, with women leading temples, acting as managing editors of the group’s newspaper, and factoring prominently in the creation and maintenance of auxiliary groups. Recent examinations of women in the Nation of Islam (NOI) also reveal the critical roles women played in creating, sustaining, and maintaining the movement. Participation of women in NOI compared to women in Moorish Science illustrates that women in both of these movements performed the work necessary for the organization’s success, despite our current male dominated narratives. The link between these two movements is significant, as the Nation of Islam was formed from the disintegrating factions of Moorish Science in cities such as Detroit and Chicago. By investigating the women and their work in both movements, we gain a better understanding of the motivating factors for conversion to Islam among African American women and their families.