Lehigh University's Center for Global Islamic Studies (CGIS)
The opening of CGIS in the fall of 2009 was the culmination of years of planning among Lehigh's faculty and senior leadership, in conversation with the local Muslim community, our students, and numerous colleagues at other national and international institutions. While Islamic studies programs exist on select college campuses across the United States, most are narrowly centered upon the Middle East—even though 85 percent of today’s 1.4 billion Muslims live outside the Middle East, most of them in Asia. Building on Lehigh's existing culture and resources, the university has embraced an alternative, innovative approach. In order to spotlight Islam's global, transnational and cross-cultural reach, CGIS aims to partner with a number of other interdisciplinary programs on campus. Cooperation with ongoing initiatives in Asian Studies, Africana Studies, American Studies, Jewish Studies, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Global Studies offers a wealth of expertise and resources that extends the Center's activities across the campus and throughout the curriculum.
Lehigh's previous efforts to support Islamic studies have already produced significant results that illustrate the fertile ground upon which the Center can grow: a sustained interest in Arabic language instruction, strong enrollments for courses on Islam via the Religion Studies department, frequent requests for class visits in multiple departments and speaking engagements in various forums, a range of Islam-related campus events, off-campus lectures in the Lehigh Valley community, large turnouts for an annual Islam lecture series and "Middle East Week," and an active and growing Muslim Student Association on campus.
The Center's efforts received a major boost from a generous seed grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Over a four-year period (2009-2013) this grant funded library acquisitions, faculty research, and teaching in comparative, interdisciplinary Islamic Studies. Most significantly, it supported three annual faculty positions: 1) a Professor of Practice in Arabic 2) a pre-doc/post-doc position and 3) a Visiting Professor appointment. During their stays on the Lehigh campus, a talented group of visiting scholars taught a range of courses in their respective fields while also contributing to the Center's intellectual life and expanding activities.
At present, Lehigh has several faculty members whose research and teaching explores various dimensions of the global Muslim world. This includes Professor Khurram Hussain, a scholar of Islamic and comparative ethics; Professor Susan Kart, an art historian with expertise on Islamic traditions in West Africa; Professor Allison Mickel, an archeologist whose research focuses on multiple sites in the Middle East; Professor Robert Rozehnal (Center Director), a scholar of Islamic studies and comparative South Asian religions; and Professor Bruce Whitehouse, a cultural anthropologist whose work examines the interactions between religious identity and social forces in West Africa.
A Vision for the Future
Looking to the future, CGIS aspires to play a significant role in the transformation of Lehigh's intellectual and social landscape in numerous ways:
- expanding curriculum offerings across the university and in doing so encouraging intellectual curiosity and global sophistication among Lehigh students
- creating new opportunities for student interactions with the large and diverse Muslim communities of the Lehigh Valley and the surrounding urban centers of New York and Philadelphia
- developing new opportunities for study abroad, internships and experiential education in the Muslim world
- sponsoring a variety of student and faculty research exchanges and partnerships with colleagues and institutions in the Muslim world
- hosting curriculum workshops, conferences, lectures and symposia open to Lehigh faculty, students and members of local communities
- promoting diversity among a new generation of Lehigh faculty and students
Drawing upon both humanistic and social scientific modes of inquiry, CGIS will promote rigorous scholarship and pedagogy spotlighting Muslim communities in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe, the United States and the global diaspora. A central component to the implementation of this vision, however, is faculty development. A diverse faculty with broad expertise in a wide range of scholarly disciplines is absolutely essential in order to address the remarkable geographical, historical and cultural complexity of the global Muslim world. To this end, in the years ahead Lehigh will pursue a range of targeted faculty hires to support the Center's ambitious intellectual agenda. These new faculty will simultaneously bolster individual departments, expand area studies programs and strengthen other interdisciplinary initiatives across the university. Examples of the kinds of scholars we envision might include: a scholar of the Qur'an and Islamic law; a historian of colonial and/or postcolonial North Africa; an art historian with expertise in Indo-Muslim architecture; an international relations expert on contemporary Middle East politics; a political scientist studying the American Muslim immigrant experience; or a sociologist studying Muslim feminist movements. The exact profile of new faculty will, of course, depend on the expertise of individual candidates and the specific needs of departments. As with previous campus-wide interdisciplinary initiatives, Lehigh will coordinate all Islamic studies hires to insure complementary strengths. In the end, first-rate faculty are instrumental to building innovative academic programs—and the next generation of scholars in comparative Islamic Studies at Lehigh will be essential to enhancing the growth and reputation of the Center, both nationally and internationally.
The launch of the Center for Global Islamic Studies is a pivotal component in the continued expansion of the undergraduate educational experience at Lehigh University. Drawing on the university's experience in building interdisciplinary programs, its institutional commitment to developing the necessary resources, and its substantive relationships with numerous Muslim partners both in the Lehigh Valley and internationally, the Center for Global Islamic Studies will play a central role in the university's mission to provide our students with transformative learning experiences that cross academic disciplines and broaden horizons on today's globalized world.