Growing as a Scholar at the CSWR

May 22, 2015
Shaireen Rasheed
Shaireen Rasheed / Photo:  Institute for Cultural Diplomacy

Shaireen Rasheed has been a visiting scholar for the 2014–15 academic year at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School, where she has worked on a manuscript that explores the ethical concept of sexuality, Islam, and the war on terror from a phenomenological framework.

Below, she writes about her experiences at the CSWR and the impact working with fellow scholars at HDS has had on her research.

I came to the Center for the Study of World Religions as a 2014–15 visiting scholar on my sabbatical to finish a manuscript on "Sexuality, Islam, and the War on Terror." What I gained by coming to the CSWR at HDS was much more than just time dedicated to completing my research.

The CSWR and HDS have both served as an extremely fertile intellectual space to ground my work on Islam and politics and to facilitate the bridge between religion and politics within the current landscape. Being part of the School's and the CSWR's nurturing and intellectual community has helped me articulate these issues better and has informed my own research tremendously.

My research has three related trajectories: sexuality, Islam, and the war on terror; counter radicalization initiatives on the war on terror globally and in the U.S.; and intercultural religious pedagogy curriculum that help us further understand Islam within a pluralistic, K-12 framework.

Through my manuscript I explore the notion of liberalism and fundamentalism as a contested terrain, both in the East and the West. I am critically examining these polarizing discourses articulated by the likes of Irshad Manji or Ayaas Hirsi on one side, and also the piety discourses offered as an alternative in the current post-colonial landscape.

Using Luce Irigaray's phenomenological framework of creating an "ethics of the erotic," I propose that in order to facilitate a notion of a third discourse, or a third space, current feminist and post-colonial scholarship and practice must continue to reinforce a splitting that is happening within the Western and Islamic discourses surrounding Muslim women's identity.

Relating these discussions to current policies is imperative for my research. Being at the CSWR and at HDS has expanded my research horizons and informed my own work by reading the scholarship of fellow colleagues and faculty, while also being able to engage in related talks, presentations, and discussions.

In March, I gave a talk at Harvard's Islam in the West program, which is directed by Jocelyne Cesari, HDS Lecturer on Islamic Studies. The talk was based on my paper, "Counter Radicalization and the Training of Imams: Securitizing Religion in the Public Space," which examines counter extremism policies and was a result of my research looking at the terrorism discourse surrounding Islam post 9/11, and more currently after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  

Twice each month, the CSWR holds a fellows breakfast during which myself and other scholars have taken turns presenting a work in progress. They have been an extremely useful and invigorating forum where colleagues working at various stages of their research share their work for feedback.

During a CSWR fellows breakfast on April 20, I discussed my paper, "Antigone, Irony and the Nation State: Case of Laal Masjid (Red Mosque) and the Role of Militant Feminism in Pakistan."

The paper explores the evolving role of extremism and religiosity as specifically articulated in Pakistan by women who, in an attempt to reclaim their spaces, are redefining what it means to be Muslim and a feminist. My talk highlighted the role of the military, the Taliban, and the pockets of civic activist spaces in Pakistan, including mosques and other places of worship.

In my discussions of counter radicalization initiatives to combat ISIS and other extremism networks, I emphasize the evolving role of religion as a political tool. And in formulating alternative counter terrorism discourses to combat extremism, I hope to show the varying ways religion is utilized in these spaces.

The environment at HDS and at the CSWR, under its director Francis X. Clooney, has been a very conducive space to write, engage in dialogue, and think about these issues within an interdisciplinary framework. My months as a visiting scholar will be an experience I will greatly cherish in my journey and growth as an academic, an intellectual, and an individual.

—by Shaireen Rasheed, 2014–15 CSWR Visiting Scholar and Professor of Philosophical Foundations at Long Island University