With a daily surplus of images and negative portrayals of Muslims in multiple societies around the world and in the US, Muslims face a "very dismal picture of ethical life among this faith community," Professor Ebrahim Moosa said Tuesday as part of the Thomas Langford Lecture Series.
"Saturated media coverage spotlights the reprehensible deeds of a range of Muslim actors: from the pitiless brutalities of terrorists and their apocalyptic visions, to the painful accounts of women at the receiving end of misogynous practices," said Moosa, a professor of religion and Islamic studies. "As true as many of these headline items might sound, any reasonably informed person would agree they do not tell the whole story. The acts of a few, some people would resolutely argue, have managed to tarnish the reputation of millions and dehumanize an entire civilization."
Moosa, who spoke on "Contesting Virtue: Between Law, Ethics and the Public Good in Contemporary Islam," was one of four Duke faculty members chosen this school year to receive the Thomas Langford Lectureship Award, presented annually to provide Duke faculty with an opportunity to hear about the ongoing scholarly activities of new or recently promoted colleagues.
Moosa's research interests span both classical and modern Islamic thought, with a special focus on Islamic law, history, ethics and theology.
In the wide ranging lecture and question session in the Doris Duke Center, Moosa addressed challenges in the realm of religious thought in Islam, including how Islamic laws in the 9th and 10th centuries translate today in South Asia and elsewhere, the often deadly consequences faced by writers and scholars accused of committing acts of apostasy and blasphemy, inroads of new media and technology into the madrasas, and the place of religion in the global public sphere.
"It is difficult to forecast the future of Islam as a complex and varied religious tradition which is inflected with multiple cultures and civilizations of the world," said Moosa, who joined Duke just weeks before Sept. 11, 2001. "But all of you have witnessed in just a decade, from Sept. 11, 2001, to the Arab Spring of January of 2011, the sea change that has occurred in one part of this very diverse map of a discrete civilization. I do not need to tell you that this is one massive and fast-moving work in progress."
As part of his introductory remarks, Provost Peter Lange quoted a review describing Moosa's work as "sophisticated, relevant, technically sound, ideationally rich; challenging, fresh, imaginative and at times provocative." He also read a comment by a Duke student that Moosa "keeps the lectures from getting too boring and occasionally goes on some pretty funny rants."
Faculty members from the Committee on Appointments, Promotion and Tenure choose four to five recipients of the Langford Lectureship award each year. Lange created the award in 2000 to promote the legacy of Thomas Langford, who served as Divinity School faculty member, dean and provost at Duke.
This year's lectureship awardees also include Anirudh Krishna, professor of public policy and political science; Vincent Conitzer of computer science & economics; and Jenni Groh professor of psychology and neuroscience.