The Islamic World Studies (IWS) Department of DePaul University is often considered to be leading the national discourse on Islamic Studies and Islam in America. The department continued to push these boundaries by hosting the inaugural Conference on Islam in America earlier this quarter.
The Conference on Islam in America, Sept. 23 and 24 in the DePaul Loop Campus Conference Center, was the first event of its kind. It brought together academics, activists, students and community leaders interested in the direction of the Muslim community in America and its engagement with the pertinent and relevant social and political issues of our time.
"We're bringing together people that aren't normally sitting together in direct conversation," said Trent Carl, IWS program assistant and recent DePaul alumnus. "These people play different roles in the wider world, and they have the opportunity to listen to and discourse about their visions and activities."
"This community serves as a home base for the scholars who work on Islam in America to collaborate, share ideas, engage with activists and community leaders," said Dr. Aminah McCloud, professor of Religious Studies and director of IWS. "This is a rare opportunity for community leaders and students to be engaged directly with the scholars of Islamic Studies."
The Conference's inaugural theme was "Representation," inviting those participating to consider several key questions: How do Muslims construct a self-image, and how is that image constructed by others? Who represents Muslims in America, and how do Muslims in America handle the issue of authority?
The Conference consisted of six panels, ranging from topics such as "Shaping and Contesting Authority" to "The Historiography of Islam in America."
While this conference was diverse in regards to societal roles, it was also racially, ethnically and intellectually diverse.
"We had representatives from many schools of Islamic thought in addition to those coming from diverse and unique racial and ethnic backgrounds," said McCloud.
The Conference was open to non-Muslims and many attended.
While the conference space was filled to capacity with more than 300 physical participants, the panel discussions and questions where disseminated across the country and across the world. More than 30,000 people from across the United States and from countries such as Kuwait, the United Kingdom and France participated through live streaming video and question submission.
The Conference had wide-ranging support. Universities such as DePaul, Marquette and the Catholic Theological Union and organizations such as the American Academy of Religion and the Muslim Public Affairs Council were among the numerous sponsors that assisted by inviting classes to participate virtually and spreading awareness and support.
Despite the fact that the Conference was held at DePaul and that Fr. Holtschneider offered a very warm and humble welcome to the Conference, many participants wished for more engagement from DePaul's academic communities.
"Students from IWS, International Studies, Religious Studies and other departments were invited, but we did not get the strong turnout that we had hoped for," said Carl.
Conference organizers are already planning for the years to come. They are working to increase public visibility and to make the website a hub of activity between now and next year's conference.
"We're going to make the website more accessible by offering podcasts, videos, interactive forums and discussion threads so that we can continue these conversations," said McCloud.
The papers offered this year by the conference members will be in the next issue of the Journal of Islamic Law and Culture, later this academic year and available online and through DePaul's library resources. The dates of the next conference have been confirmed for Sept. 21 and 22, 2012 in the DePaul Loop Campus Conference Center.