Seminar Series: Islam and Liberalism in Contemporary Society

Abstract

Mainstream views about Islam in the West tend to be highly polarized between two groups: on the one side are the apologists, who refuse to hold the Islamist ideology accountable for acts of terrorism, out-group hostility and lack of integration; on the other side we find the supporters of the “clash of civilization” theory, who consider “Islam” per se as fundamentally incompatible with Western civilization and liberal democratic values. Inevitably, Muslim individuals are also dragged into this dichotomic scheme. Apologists tend either to deny the existence of specific problems related to Islamic fundamentalism, or to cover the phenomenon under a blanket of victimization, or even to romanticize it as quintessential authenticity and resistance against Western cultural imperialism. On the other side, anti-Muslim haters consider radicals as the epitome of the umma – the most blatant iteration of what lurks beneath the mind of every Muslim on earth. From opposite angles, both groups regard Islam and Muslims as a monolithic entity, either to excuse them or to attack them as a whole.

Radicals are those who benefit the most from these essentialist views: if there is only one type of Islam, Islamists – usually louder, wealthier and more organized – are the best suited to claim to represent all Muslims, thus gaining credit, power and funding at the expenses of secularist and liberal believers.
The aim of this cycle of seminars is to counter these polarized views and give the floor to Muslim and born-Muslim intellectuals (both scholars and first-line practitioners) who adopt a differentiated approach to Islam - in terms of content and/or methodology.
While they all cherish liberal democratic values and individual rights, they are also diverse in terms of experiences, worldviews and approach to the faith. Hence, the cycle of seminars will make room for debate and for the presentation of heterogenous views on key topics surrounding Islam and its place in the modern world.