By Prof. Maurits Berger, head of the department of Islamic Theology
7 July 2009
Leiden University has a long tradition of Islam-studies. Granted, these studies were subject to their times. Studying Islam in the 16th and 17th century was aimed at understanding the religion of a faith that was considered inferior and even hostile to Christianity. And in the 18th and 19th centuries, when The Netherlands were colonizing Indonesia, the study of Islam was considered relevant for colonial purposes.
But times have changed drastically since then. Until recently the study of Islam meant a trip to the library or to some faraway exotic land. But now Islam is here, in the West. Muslims are our lawyers and legislators, bankers and bakers, cleaners and criminals. There are over 450 mosques in The Netherlands alone, headscarves and djellabas have become common features of street life. Many of our students are Muslim.
The academic landscape has changed accordingly. Muslims are not only subject-matter of research, but they are researchers themselves. Western societies are not outsiders to what is happening in Islamic discourse, but they play an important role.
Leiden has met these changes with a new study programme: Islam in the Contemporary West. The dialectic between ‘Islam’ and the ‘West’ has effects both ways: Muslims react to how they feel treated by the societies they live in, and their fellow citizens and societies react to the changes and threats they perceive are being created by Muslims. The interaction of these two forces creates new discourses of Islam.
Where will this lead to? Europe is dealing with a growing conservatism among young Muslims who have only recently started identifying themselves as ‘Muslims’. They are eagerly fitting this new identity into the modern society they are part of. The outcome is still unforeseen, but the process is fascinating.
It is for these reasons that we invite students from abroad, especially from Muslim countries, to come and study here in Leiden, because we need the visions and opinions of outsiders. Their fresh looks may yield new findings and clues in these challenging times.
Prof. Maurits Berger is the head of the department of Islamic Theology
For the Master programme Islamic Theology:
For the master programme Religious Studies, track Islam in the contemporary west:
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