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Duke to Establish Islamic Studies Center, Create $1.5 Million Endowed Professorship

The center's primary focus will be undergraduate education, international outreach

Duke University will create an Islamic studies center that will focus on undergraduate education and expand partnerships with universities in Muslim-majority countries, Provost Peter Lange announced Wednesday.

"The Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC) will seek to advance interaction and understanding between citizens of American and Muslim cultures," said Lange, the university's top academic official. "The center's ultimate objective is to provide interdisciplinary learning with a humanistic approach to the world's future western and Muslim leaders. This complements many of the university's top priorities, including advancing the undergraduate experience and promoting the internationalization of scholarship."

A $1.5 million gift from James P. and Audrey Gorter for an endowed professorship in Islamic studies will enable Duke to take the first step toward establishing the center, Lange said. The Gorters are the parents of two Duke alumni and two other children.

Robert J. Thompson Jr., dean of Trinity College and vice provost for undergraduate education, said the center will be an important addition to the undergraduate curricular offerings, "not only in terms of a focus on the Muslim world but also because of the interdisciplinary perspective, the emphasis on the development of language skills and the study abroad component in a Muslim country, all of which are integrated into a coherent curricular experience."

The center's principal focus will be undergraduate education, said Bruce Lawrence, the Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor of Religion at Duke. Lawrence, an Islamicist, will serve as inaugural director of DISC; associate professor of Islamic studies Ebrahim Moosa will be the center's director of research.

"What does not exist right now is a depth and breadth of courses that accurately reflect the Muslim world," said Lawrence, who joined the Duke faculty in 1971. "This is almost a dream come true for me."

DISC will offer a four-year, interdisciplinary and integrated curriculum that includes a first-year course on Islamic studies, at least a semester of study abroad, foreign language studies (in Arabic, Persian, Turkish or Urdu) and a senior thesis course. Students who successfully complete the requirements will earn a certificate.

"The new professorship in Islamic studies, together with DISC and the certificate program in Islamic studies, charts a cutting-edge and innovative approach to the study of Muslim societies," said Moosa, director of the Center for the Study of Muslim Networks (CSMN) at Duke. "It examines Islam as a civilization akin to any other."

CSMN will be folded into DISC and no longer operated as a separate center, but DISC will maintain the approach of studying Muslim societies as networks, Moosa and Lawrence said. DISC also will continue to support the "Islamic Civilizations and Muslim Networks" book series, which is co-edited by Lawrence and published by the University of North Carolina Press. Books in the series include "Muslim Networks from Hajj to Hip Hop" (edited by Lawrence and his wife Miriam Cooke, who is a professor of modern Arabic literature and culture at Duke) and "Ghazali and the Politics of Imagination," authored by Moosa.

In conjunction with the certificate program, the center will seek to enroll undergraduates and recruit visiting scholars from Muslim-majority nations. It will also offer fellowships in Islamic studies to graduate students.

"The international outreach -- through collaborative conferences with scholars from abroad, residential fellowships and study-abroad programs -- will enable a stimulating intellectual traffic to pass through the Duke campus," Moosa said. "Hopefully this will contribute to the debates centered on Islam and Muslims for students, faculty and the Duke community at large."

The center's advisory board will hold its first meeting on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11 and 12, at Duke's John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies. Advisory board members include James Gorter, who will convene the board; Farooq Kathwari, CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors; Farhan Nizami, director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies; Eboo Patel, director of Interfaith Youth Corp.; Bettye Musham, president of GEAR Holdings; Nemir Kirdar, CEO of Investcorp International Inc.; Eugene V. Fife, interim director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia; and Seham Freih, former dean of Kuwait University.