Judith Jacobson, Dr.P.H.ColumbiaUniversity
and Charles Isbell, Ph.D., LouisianaStateUniversity.
Approved by Scholars for Peace in the Middle EastBoard
On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists in the United States, acting in the name of Islam, murdered more than 3000 individuals, representing more than 80 nationalities. At that point, many educators realized that the existing educational system was not teaching students what they needed to know about Islam, or about the one billion Muslims who live in our world and the many thousands who live and work in the United States.
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) applauds and supports the decision made in numerous educational institutions to teach students about Islam. However, SPME believes that establishing courses or other curricular experiences focusing on Islam is not a simple task. Staffing hastily formed courses with inexperienced instructors or with instructors who lack professional training and experience in the broad field of religious studies is a disservice to students.
In particular, SPME believes that education about Islam in public and secular (non-Muslim) institutions should:
1. Draw, at least at the introductory level, on a comparative methodology in which several religious traditions are studied objectively together.
2. Avoid what is known among professional instructors of religion as the “confessional” approach, in which instructors offer and encourage students to offer a personal validation of the religion under discussion.
3. Carefully distinguish between the political ideologies of individuals or groups who happen to be Muslims and the faith of Islam as a religious system.
4. Not be made mandatory.
These guidelines are critically important given the Constitutional requirement of church-state separation. They are also necessary given recent developments in education about Islam. Across America, colleges and universities have for many years offered courses on religion as part of a well-rounded curriculum in liberal arts. Virtually all teachers of these courses hold terminal degrees in their fields and routinely affiliate themselves with one or more professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Religion in the USA, or its sister organizations in other countries. These organizations are guilds of scholars and teachers that set standards, publish textbooks and other educational materials, and sponsor forums of debate and post-educational learning for their members. The professional guilds also play a role in the training and advising of teachers of religion at the high school and grade school levels. They can provide teacher training for courses at lower levels, within a framework of professional excellence and objectivity.
At every level of instruction, SPME strongly urges that those who teach about Islam display the same academic and intellectual rigor required for the teaching of all religious history, theology, sacred texts, theological tenets, and praxis, and convey the breadth and diversity of Islamic history and observance.
Wherever the concerns expressed above are addressed appropriately, SPME offers its support for the training of qualified instructors for courses about Islam, for the inclusion of Islam as part of a broader religion curriculum, and, in this context, for teaching about Islam in educational institutions.
SPME also supports the development of courses and curricular units that focus on Muslim civilization and culture and on the history, geography, and politics of predominantly Muslim countries. These parts of the world have been insufficiently studied until now. It is clear that we ignore them at our peril.
For Further information, contact Dr. Edward S. Beck, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, 717.545.5500Ext 0.
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East www.spme.net is a not-for-profit, educational, grassroots and advocacy group of over 350 scholars and academics on over 150 campuses world-wide. SPME is committed to educating and advocating for Israel‘s right to exist within safe and secure borders at peace with her neighbors and address the increasing number of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents on college and university campuses.
–Judith S. Jacobson, Dr.P.H.
Department of Epidemiology
Mailman School of Public Health
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