Islam in the Public Sphere

About the Course:

Without doubt, religion plays a major role in public life. In communities around the world, individuals and groups use religious discourses for political, economic, and cultural ends. In the U.S., politicians talk about the ways their faith influences their decisions on public matters. Some sports icons make religion central to their identity. Many artists, actors, scientists, inventors, and business people see religion as a useful tool to communicate with broader audiences or promote their brand. Religious holidays become marketing opportunities and religious symbols are used to make advertising campaigns effective. Religious groups use religion to boycott or promote events and products. Religious institutions are becoming profitable business enterprises. In short, religion in America and around the world is so pervasive that it is encountered in every public space.

In Europe, the debate of secularism and the place of religion in the public life continue to evolve. Laws are routinely enacted to ban religious symbols, such as wearing religious garments in public institutions. Building new minarets was banned in Switzerland. And the negotiation of the expansion of the EU to include Turkey became contentious because of the real or perceived European bias against Muslims.

In the Islamic world, immediately after the so-called Arab Spring, secular regimes fell and some were replaced by political entities that have roots in religious movements. Civil wars between different Islamic sects became a persistent threat to stability in the Middle East. At the start of the second decade of this millennium, in Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, and many other Arab Spring countries, secular constitutions were replaced by new ones that are said to be “shari`ah compliant”, while more Islamist parties were created, some liberal, others ultra-conservative. Artists, actors, and academicians become fearful for freedom of expression and innovation. And Saudi Arabia worked hard to limit the influence of Shiism in traditionally Sunni countries.

In short, religion has exerted and still is exerting undeniable influence in societies all over the world. This course will examine some of the ways in which religion manifest itself in the public sphere. We will examine religion in the arts, politics, science, literature, sports, communication, business, education, and many other domains of the public sphere. We will explore the role of religion in public life in the United States, Europe, the Islamic societies, and other communities around the world. We will survey the similarities and differences played by dominant religious traditions including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism among others.

Students will learn to identify the manifestation of religious discourses and be able to critically analyze them. The course will feature regular analysis of media clips and articles dealing with current events. We will read texts, watch movies and films, listen to speeches, and scrutinize the media to account for the ways, methods, and functions of the discourses that invoke religion.


Required Textbooks:

  1. Reading Packet and Multimedia (available online (ICON site).
  2. Religion in Public Life: Must Faith Be Privatized?; by Roger Trigg. ISBN: 0199543674, Oxford University Press, USA (July 15, 2008); Price, $28.29.
  3. Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways; by Olivier Roy; ISBN: 0231701268, Columbia University Press (February 21, 2012); Price, $19.00.

 Multimedia: Videos, films, and documentaries