From The Director
When I arrived at the University of Southern California in the Fall of 2011, I had spent the previous fourteen years teaching Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. My tenure there straddled the tragedy of 9-11 and the precipitous rise in the public interest in Islam. This newly emergent “market” represented both a challenge and an opportunity for the academy. On the one hand, it filled undergraduate Arabic and Intro to Islam classes. But it also forced traditional Islamic Studies out of its near exclusive focus on the Middle East.
My primary training was in Islamic law, theology and history. But I have spent over a decade placing traditional Islamic Studies in conversation with the realities of Islam and Muslims in the modern world, especially America. As I see it, Islamic Studies can no longer be treated solely as a constituent of Middle Eastern or area studies–nor can it be divorced, however, from its rootedness in the intellectual, cultural and sociopolitical history of Islam and the traditional Muslim world. This broad cultural-historical vision is the cornerstone of USC’s newly established Center for Islamic Thought, Culture and Practice (CITCAP).
The reality of Islam in the modern world is the story of Muslims’ attempts to negotiate the ideals of religion, the quotidian aspirations of various groups and individuals and the radically ever-changing realities of a globalized world. CITCAP aims to highlight, monitor and even contribute to this negotiation by means of scholarly exchange, support and production; community engagement and outreach; and undergraduate and graduate training and student initiatives.
Though CITCAP is less than a year old, it has already begun to make its mark, having co-sponsored its first international conference on Religion, Democracy and the Arab Awakening. The success of this conference speaks to the broad interest and wide support surrounding the serious, open and robust study of Islam in the spirit of CITCAP’s vision. I very much look forward to continuing in this vein and to sharing with and benefiting from the broader community of scholars, students and other interested parties, as we embark on a shared mission to produce new and useful knowledge on one of the most fascinating and challenging phenomena of the 21st century.
Sherman A. Jackson, Director
King Faisal Chair in Islamic Thought and Culture
Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity