When did you decide Islamic studies was what you wanted to specialize in?
Even before changing my major, my primary interest in religion was Islam. When I left business school, I started taking subjects that I knew I would need to specialize in Islam. For example, if you’re going to work on Islam, you need to know certain languages, so I began learning French right away. Although I had been studying Arabic and Persian, I became more serious about learning these languages well.
How has your experience been teaching Islamic studies at CU?
It’s only been a year. So far I’m really impressed with some of the students, especially Religious Studies majors. I’m also learning a lot about pedagogy from my colleagues, who are fantastic. I think that CU Boulder has the potential to be an important center for the study of Islam and I’m excited to be a part of that.
What courses do you teach?
My colleagues in Religious Studies and elsewhere and I are expanding the university’s offerings on Islam. In the Fall I’ll be offering an introduction to Islam titled Foundations of Islamic Traditions and a course on Islamic mysticism titled “The Mystical Path of Islam.” This semester I’m teaching a course on the Quran titled “The Story of the Quran” which will complement our department’s offerings on the scriptures of the world’s religions. I’m also teaching a course on Islamist movements titled “Islam, Politics, and Militancy” which, I think, will evolve into a course on fundamentalism per se.
Are you working on any other research projects right now?
In addition to working on turning my dissertation into a book, I’m writing an introduction to Shi’i intellectual life in the period a study meant for non-specialists. It’s part of a series being published by the Shi’ah Institute in London in collaboration with Yale University Press. I’ve also agreed to write a book on one of the most important Shi’i scholars in history, al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli, which will be part of a new series being published by Islamic Texts Society called Scholars and Sages of Islam.
What book or article do you recommend students get that are interested in learning more about Islamic studies?
One recent book that has been very controversial is The Impossible State by one of my teachers Wael Hallaq. Professor Hallaq argues that the modern state is antithetical to the moral ethos of Islam. It’s a critique of the nation state, and it’s also a critique of Islamist politics. It sparked a lively debate, and I think it’s a good way to start thinking about biggerissues at stake in the study of Islam.
What is your favorite thing about CU?
For a long time now, my life has revolved around whatever university I’ve been at, and I like it that way. I like being at a big university like CU. There are a lot of brilliant people here, and there’s always something exciting going on. I feel alive in this environment.