Dr. Omid Safi

Dr. Omid Safi is the Director of the Islamic Studies Center at Duke University and specializes on Islamic mysticism, contemporary Islamic thought, and medieval... Read more about Omid Safi
Duke University
Durham, NC

The Aga Khan | July 31, 2015 | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly | PBS

August 5, 2015
Around the world there are approximately 15 million Ismaili Muslims, who belong to the Shia branch of Islam. Their spiritual leader is the Aga Khan, who traces his ancestors directly back to the Prophet Muhammad. A wealthy philanthropist, he has made it his mission, based on his faith, to fight poverty, encourage peace, and promote religious understanding. We spoke with him in Toronto, where the Aga Khan Museum, the first art museum in North America devoted to Islamic art and culture, recently opened to the public.

Dr. Duncan Williams

Dr. Duncan Williams is associate professor of religion and East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Southern California. He serves as the director of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture. Dr. Williams previously served as assistant professor of Buddhism at the University of California-Irvine from 2002-2006 and became an affiliate of the Pluralism Project during that time, organizing several projects that explored Buddhism in America.  Prior to that, he did research for the Pluralism Project on Buddhism in the Pacific Northwest during his time as a graduate student at Harvard University.

Project 1: Southern California Regional Researchers Network

A three-day (September 3-5, 2004) Issei Buddhism Conference conference drew 30 of the most distinguished researchers from Japan, the U.S., Canada, and Brazil to University of California, Irvine to explore the Japanese immigration experience in those countries and the role of Buddhist temples in those communities. The vast majority of the "Issei," or the first generation Japanese immigrants, were active in the establishment and growth of Buddhist temples in Hawaii, the West Coast of Canada and the U.S., and Latin and South America. The Buddhist temple served not only as a spiritual refuge for these pioneers, but as a cultural center where Japanese language and cultural traditions (tea ceremony, flower arrangement, martial arts, taiko drumming, among others) were transmitted from the first generation to their Nisei children born in the Americas.

In this groundbreaking conference, senior and younger scholars based on both sides of the Pacific Rim presented keynote addresses and papers in roundtable panels on seven sects of Japanese American Buddhism, the role of Buddhist women's auxiliaries, and Buddhist life on the plantations of Hawaii, Buddhism in the internment camps of World War II, among other topics. As a growing field of research, as evidenced by the explosion of new monographs by a number of the participants, this conference is the culmination of smaller-scale panels at national conferences in religion. Asian Studies, and Asian American Studies, but also the beginning of a new dialogue on an international level. With the problem of language barriers in the past, it has been especially difficult for Japanese scholars to communicate their high-level research to their counterparts in the Americas. This international conference was the first to bridge this gap.

Project 2: Orange County Mapping at U-California, Irvine

During the 2003-2004 academic year, students from the Buddhism course (EA20) and Japanese American Religious History Course (HU31) were involved in mapping Buddhism in Orange County. Based on the basic profiling of 2003-2004, the 2004-2005 project focus was to engage in more detailed and in-depth surveys in conjunction with a UCI university-wide initiative for the mapping project (joint project of the Departments of East Asian Languages and Literatures and Asian American Studies and the Religious Studies Program).

Project 3: Minority Religions in Wartime Project

In trying to understand the post-9/11 targeting and harassment of Muslim-Americans, Arab-Americans, and those who look like those who were responsible for the terrorist attacks (such as Sikhs and other South Asians), it is instructive to examine parallels with the experience of Japanese-American Buddhists after Pearl Harbor and during World War II. A recent study of FIB documents, declassified through the Freedom of Information Act by Duncan Williams (UC-Irvine), has shown that nearly 300 priests were picked up by the FBI after Pearl Harbor. They were targetted based on unfounded claims such as that Buddhists bells were going to be used to send Morse code messages to the Japanese Navy or that temples were the sites of spy meetings between German and Japanese "fifth column" units.

The "Minority Religions in Wartime Project" is intended to examine the parallels and differences between government attitudes and treatments of Buddhists (during WW2) and Muslims (post 9/11) as the post 9/11 period has also seen its share of indiscriminate arrests of thousands of young Muslim "enemy aliens" and targeting of Muslim charitable organizations accused of terrorist links. It was in the crucible of war that many Japanese-Americans took on the conflicted identity of being Japanese-American-Buddhist. The project examined if 9/11 will also turn out to be just as significant a turning point for Muslim-Americans as they struggle with Americanization and resistance to it in their ethnic and religious identity formation.

... Read more about Duncan Williams

University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA

Dr. Paul Numrich

Dr. Paul Numrich is Professor in the Snowden Chair for the Study of Religion and Interreligious Relations at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Professor of World Religions and Interreligious Relations at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. He became a Pluralism Project affiliate in 1998 while a research assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His first affiliate research project (1998-2001) focused on the landscape of Buddhism in Chicago; the second (2010) was on mosques in the same city.

... Read more about Paul Numrich

Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Delaware, OH

Abbas Barzegar

The events of 9/11 came as a shock to the entire world; for Muslim communities, and particularly for those in the United States, there was no time available to privately absorb the impact of the attacks. Muslims were immediately cast into the public spotlight and asked to explain their faith in terms of its association with global terrorism, religious extremism, and militant ideologies—concepts as foreign to Muslim Americans as they were to non-Muslim Americans. 9/11 was the catalyst to an explosion of intra/interfaith Muslim activity, the extent and impact of which we have yet to fully understand.

Abbas Barzegar, a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, undertook this research with the goal of surveying the various activities and engagements undertaken by Muslim groups in Colorado after 9/11 in terms of inter/intra faith religious activity and assess the dynamics of this increased activity in terms of religious praxis, that is, the interplay between religious conception and behavior. While the majority of Colorado Muslim groups adhere to nearly identical religious tenets, the organizational behavior of various communities differs greatly from group to group. The research accounted for this level of diversity by testing hypotheses regarding issues such as identity politics and religious sectarianism.

Five distinct groups were chosen for the research. Each group represents a large section of Colorado Muslims while at the same time they represent broad ideological patterns in the Colorado Muslim community, and also in the larger national and global contexts. The groups included communities of Arab and South Asian immigrants belonging to Sunni, Shiite, and Salafi orientations, in addition to the numerous converts. Community leaders and members are drawn upon for consultation and participation in the project. Informal interviews and participant observation are the primary methods of data collection.

As of 2019, Dr. Barzegar is visiting lecturer at Georgia State University and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. 

... Read more about Abbas Barzegar

Georgia State University
Atlanta, GA

Dr. David W. Odell-Scott and Dr. Surinder M. Bhardwaj

Dr. David Odell-Scott and Dr. Surinder Bhardwaj became Pluralism Project affiliates in 1999. Together, Drs. Odell-Scott and Bhardwaj engaged their students in a study of immigrant religious communities in northern Ohio.  Dr. David Odell-Scott is an associate dean at Kent State University and directs the College of Arts and Science's Center for Comparative and Integrated Programs. Dr. Surinder Bhardwaj is professor emeritus in the geography department at Kent State University. Upon Dr. Bhardwaj's retirement, Dr. Odell-Scott was joined in 2013 by Rev. Lauren M. Odell-Scott in the continuation of this project.

... Read more about David W. Odell-Scott and Dr. Surinder M. Bhardwaj

Kent State University
Kent, OH

Kathleen E. Foley

Kathleen E. Foley earned a PhD in city and regional planning from Cornell University and is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.... Read more about Kathleen E. Foley
Department of City & Regional Planning
Institute for Social Policy and Understanding Fellow
Ithaca, NY