Theses Doctoral

Translating Islamic Authority: Chaplaincy and Muslim Leadership Education in North American Protestant Seminaries

Jalalzai, Sajida

This dissertation analyzes the education of Muslim leaders in accredited North American institutions. Currently, the only accredited programs that train Muslim leaders in the United States and Canada are Protestant Christian seminaries. Based on ethnographic research conducted at Hartford Seminary (Hartford, Connecticut), Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto (Toronto, Ontario), and Bayan Claremont (Claremont, California), I analyze the impact of multifaith educational models on the development of North American Muslim leaders, such as Muslim chaplains, pastors, and spiritual caregivers. I examine the various rationales provided by the institutions in question for the establishment of Muslim leadership training programs at Christian seminaries, as well as Muslim students’ justifications for studying at these institutions. Subsequently, I argue that these programs depend on multiple forms of “translation” that render members of distinct religious traditions comprehensible to one another. These multifaith programs require translations of space in order to accommodate the practical needs of members of diverse religious backgrounds, and to generate experiences of inclusivity. I also examine curricular translations, specifically focusing on translations of “the spiritual,” given the centrality of the concept within the professional field of chaplaincy. Finally, I analyze translations of debates about gender and authority in Islam into multifaith classrooms. These various negotiations make apparent that the burdens of translation are not equally shared. Within the Protestant milieus in which these Muslim leadership programs take shape, the work of Muslim students is ultimately framed and evaluated within a setting where Christianity provides the overwhelming “logic” of the field. This dissertation thus reveals the inculcation of norms of Muslim authority that align with liberal Christian values, including but not limited to: religious individualism, spirituality (versus legalism), democracy, non-hierarchical forms of authority, ecumenism, and interfaith relationship-building.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bender, Courtney
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 4, 2016