The Academic Study of Islam

Lesson Objectives

Understand what studying Islam will be like in a public school setting

Understand the difference between scholarly and normative claims

Appreciate the Functionalist (vs. Comparative) approach to Islam

Understand the importance of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy in Religion

Appreciate the false distinction between "God" and "Allah"

Appreciate how far back Islamic and American history are intertwined

Key Terms

Theologian (c.f. "Confessional Theology")

Scholar of Religion (c.f. "Religious Studies")

Normative Claims

Descriptive Claims


Comparative Religious Studies

Functionalist Religious Studies

No True Scotsman fallacy

God & Allah

Muslim-American History

Islam in a Public School Setting

The Theologian & the Scholar

• A theogian does religion. A scholar studies religious communities and texts.

     • A scholar is interested in the socio-historical, philsophical, and political           reasons why theologians might make the claims they do

• A theologian picks sides in a religious debate; a scholar does not.

• The scholar is not interested in whether a theologian or religious group is right

Why Scholarship doesn’t compete with Theology (3 min vid)

• Different approaches with different goals

• Theology: the practice of sharing one's personal beliefs as “Truth”

• Scholarship: shares peer-reviewed scholarship; makes no claims to “Truth”

• They appeal to different audiences (i.e. student vs congregant)

What does a Scholar of Religion do?

• Contextualize a social group's origins, texts, and claims

• Compare claims of a social group with the historical record

• Critique social power structures and how they are used

• Analyze the ways social groups perceive and simplify complex social problems • Resist social forces that aim to make religious authorities unquestionable