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Visiting Professor of Religion Abdolkarim Soroush
Visiting Professor of Religion Abdolkarim Soroush

Symposium Examines “Islam: Reform and Revival”

The role and influence of Islam in the world today grows increasingly complex. In the wake of the revolts of the Arab Spring, long-suppressed Islamic parties have been gaining ground in such countries as Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. Meanwhile, in Iran, a theocracy since the 1979 Islamist Revolution, rifts between reformists and conservatives are growing.

On December 8, a distinguished group of scholars will gather at Haverford College for a daylong symposium that will explore broad questions about the history and future of Islam. Organized by Professor of Sociology Mark Gould, “Islam: Reform and Revival” will feature among its lineup of speakers Visiting Professor of Religion Abdolkarim Soroush, who has been teaching a course at Haverford on Islamic mysticism during the fall semester.

An important thinker on Islam, Soroush has taught philosophy, mysticism and theology at Tehran, Harvard, Princeton, Amsterdam and Georgetown universities, and was named by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people in 2005. Some of his key works are collected in Reason, Freedom, & Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush.

Also participating in the symposium are Ali Mirsepassi, professor of Middle Eastern Studies and sociology at New York University and the author of Political Islam, Iran and Enlightenment and Democracy in Modern Iran, among other books, including the forthcoming At Home and In the World: Islam, Cosmopolitanism, and Democracy;  Mohsen Kadivar, an Iranian philosopher, cleric, activist, university lecturer and Islamic Studies scholar who has authored many books and articles on the topics of theology, jurisprudence and political thought; and Mahmoud Sadri, a professor of sociology at Texas Woman’s University who writes regularly about intellectual movements in Iran.

The lectures and discussions planned for the symposium will not be just for Muslims and scholars, but are aimed at a much wider audience, says Gould, whose own scholarly research and writing looks at such topics as the logic of religious commitment in Islam, Islamic constitutionalism, the role of reason in Christianity and Islam, and at one group’s attempt to reconstruct Islamic law.

“Soroush and Kadivar are important figures in the reform and revival of Islam and they will help us to understand their arguments and the importance of their projects,” says Gould. “Mirsepassi and Sadri will contextualize their positions by providing an introduction to other ways contemporary Muslims understand Islam.”

“When you listen to the media, or if you just read the newspaper, you see a very bad image of Islam and Muslim people, but you are receiving misleading information,” says Soroush, who recently joined other religious intellectuals in issuing a joint letter to the Iranian government in support of the reformist Green Movement. “People believe Islam means Al Qaeda, that Islam means the Taliban and terrorism, that Islam does not think.  But there are many voices that reject fundamentalism, that are working to reinterpret Islam and to show that the origins of the religion are very different than what many people would like to depict. They are working to draw more ethical and principled suggestions from the religion, and to create, perhaps, a new theology of Islam. We would like these new voices to become louder and to be heard.”

“Islam: Reform and Revival” is sponsored by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship and the Distinguished Visitor's Committee. Click here for more detailed information about the schedule and location of the symposium.

--Eils Lotozo


The ramp from Magill Library with Ryan Gym and Sharpless Hall in the background.

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