Protests in the Middle East, conflict in Syria, Muslim voters in the upcoming U.S. elections and other diverse topics involving Islam and the Muslim experience are the focus of a new website where scholars from leading universities have begun sharing their perspectives and research.
ISLAMiCommentary aims to inform public knowledge and discourse about the diversity of thought and cultures within Islam and Muslim communities, including those in the United States.
The site pulls together expert analysis and commentary from academics, journalists and other experts with a wide range of perspectives. Recent articles have examined terrorism's portrayal on YouTube, public opinion polling in Egypt, human rights activism in Iran, birth control among Muslim women and American misconceptions about Shariah law. The site also highlights new books and studies, such as about water resources in Gaza or democratization in the Arab world.
The Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC) at Duke University launched the site in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies at Oxford University. The Carnegie Corporation of New York is supporting the effort with a multi-year grant.
"There's so much misunderstanding in the media and public debates around issues involving Muslims and the Islamic world," said Julie Poucher Harbin, the site's lead writer and editor. "Our universities have some terrific scholars who have studied these issues for years, but many of their voices have been missing from the conversation. We've created this site to provide a forum where they can share their expertise directly with policy makers, journalists and the broader public."
The site will draw frequently on the knowledge of more than 100 leading scholars around the world who, through the Carnegie Scholars Program on Islam, have helped broaden public understanding of Muslim societies, especially since the 9/11 attacks of 2001. Their research ranges from Islamophobia and Muslim identity in the West to cultural globalization, gender, law, Islamist movements and foreign policy.
"More than ever before, developments in Muslim societies are shaped by and, in turn, shape global issues. We are in great need of expert analysis and commentary that rise above much of the hysteria-filled opinions that rule the airways and blogs," said UNC-Chapel Hill Professor of Islamic Studies Omid Safi. "ISLAMiCommentary provides an urgently needed service by making the analysis of trained experts readily available to the widest audiences."
The site is the public face of a larger project the universities are pursuing with Carnegie support. Their Transcultural Islam Project has also established a network where scholars can exchange research findings and form thematic working groups on issues of importance in the Islamic world. More information about the Transcultural Islam Research Network is at http://tirnscholars.org.
Harbin, who worked previously for NPR, NBC News and other news organizations across the globe and who has lived and traveled in Muslim countries, is managing both sites. Gilbert Merkx, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, heads the project.