Lecture examines culture of Islam
The first Kenneth V. Santagata Lecture was held on Thursday, October 3. Founded in remembrance of Santagata, Class of '73, the lecture series is intended for intellectual creativity and a passion for new ideas that he demonstrated. Bruce Lawrence, professor of Islam and Comparative Study of Religion at Duke University, is a leading voice in challenging Euro-American views of the religion. A Princeton graduate he earned a PhD from Yale University and has been teaching in North Carolina since 1971. His lecture was titled "Islamic Futures--Not Fear, but Hope is the Signpost Ahead."
Lawrence began with a brief overview of Muslim history, noting that Islam dominated the Middle East, Africa, southern Europe and southeast Asia. While there are now 50 Muslim polities, there are none in the G7 (major commercial, political, military powers) which includes Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Germany, Japan and the United States.
"Too many Americans still equate Islam with fundamentalism even though these same people would not equate Christianity with evangelical level fundamentalism," said Lawrence. "The mistake is due to a neglect of the complex history of interpretation and existence of plural understanding." He stressed that a greater knowledge of Islam will undermine crude stereotypes and replace them with accurate insights in both religious beliefs and social circumstances for the Muslim world.
The Duke professor criticized the leaders of failed nation-states who provide no opportunities for their citizens. Consequently, a secular vacuum is created in which the average Muslim is not given the opportunity to sustain their views. Lawrence said, "Religious education practice goes on in the name of Islam but is really for terrorism." He called for more Muslims to come forward and embrace the 'dignity of [religious] difference. "These modern Muslims do exist though seldom do we find them as heads of states or public figures in today's impoverished and largely discourage Muslim world."
Lawrence called for the education of Americans in the principles of Islam as well as an engagement with Muslims on the international level. With few viable economic options, the political structure of failed Islamic states must be secularly influenced and improved.