Madrasa Discourses

The Madrasa Discourses project proposes that a conciliation of traditional Islamic thought with contemporary scientific and philosophical worldviews can result in orthodox affirmations of human dignity that are essential for peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic world. This is accomplished through an educational curriculum that enables traditional Muslim scholars (ʿulamāʾ) in India and Pakistan to update their tradition by deepening their theological and scientific literacy. Engaging over one hundred young religious leaders over the course of the project, and later providing globally accessible open educational modules, the project is a modest step in the effort to revitalize the intellectual culture of Muslim societies.

Having started with a select group of thirty recently certified madrasa graduates in the spring and summer of 2017, the project offers a potentially transformative three-year educational experience with far-reaching consequences. It will provide the tools, experiences, and intellectual resources to appreciate the virtues of a cosmopolitan outlook consistent with the highest Islamic ideals and in tune with the social and political imperatives of peaceful coexistence in a multifaith and multicultural world. As future leaders and scholars, these graduates will be equipped to deal with the challenges of a rapidly globalizing world in the information and digital age.

The ulama provide crucial religious guidance in values and everyday practice to Muslims around the world. They are the custodians of traditional learning in Muslim societies and, particularly in South Asia, help shape the social and cultural outlook of their communities. Upgrading the capacity of these theologians could have a multiplier effect on millions. A transformative impact on the ulama, and by extension, on Muslim societies beyond South Asia, is a long-term goal of this project.

To read more about the renewal of Islamic thought, we invite you to read “Contending Modernities Goes to the Madrasa” and “Madrasa Graduates: Children of Abraham and Aristotle.”

Meet the Team

The Madrasa Discourses project is run by Drs. Ebrahim Moosa, Mahan Mirza, Waris Mazhari, and Ammar Khan Nasir. Visit the Madrasa Discourses Team page to learn more about each faculty member and what drew them to the project.

Visit Our Urdu-Language Journal

Tajdīd or “Renewal” is the online journal for Madrasa Discourses. It is edited by Waris Mazhari, lead faculty of the project in India. Dr. Mazhari is supported by associate editor Ammar Khan Nasir, lead faculty for Madrasa Discourses in Pakistan. Tajdīd is where religion meets new knowledge.

Intensive Coursework and Dialogues

Visit our blog to read more about the impact the project has on students’ perspectives, including on students from the University of Notre Dame who engage in weekly intercultural dialogues with those in India and Pakistan.

The Madrasa Discourses project held a two-week intensive course in Kathmandu, Nepal in July 2017 and July 2018 and a one-week winter intensive in Doha, Qatar in December 2017. Learn more about the 2017 summer intensive here. Students from India and Pakistan and international experts were joined by University of Notre Dame students who came to learn from the project.

Course Description

The three-year project to advance scientific and theological literacy in madrasa discourses in India and Pakistan equips a select group of graduates from traditional madrasas in both countries with concepts and tools to engage in academic discourses around science and theology in the 21st century. In order to attain the goals of the project, an essential prerequisite is historical literacy, without which critical textual study in an academic context is not possible. Historical literacy is the ability to apply a critical lens to artifacts, texts, or reports that inform us of the past. The “multiple literacies” in history, science, and theology that the project is concerned with shall be acquired by reading texts that are central to the Islamic scholarly tradition with new and provocative questions that will help guide students from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

The first year introduces students to religious and cultural pluralism: human beings across the world have different explanations of where we came from, how we should live, and what our ultimate purpose is. We explore traditional Islamic theological approaches for dealing with pluralism, bringing these approaches into conversation with contemporary perspectives from both the scientific and humanistic disciplines. An engagement with the classical tradition in this manner opens the window into a contested dialectic intellectual history within Islam in which a broad normative consensus was eventually established through a conversation that was influenced and mediated by foreign ideas. Indeed, the following question is central to our inquiry in the program’s first year: if the Islamic tradition emerged from deep engagement with intellectual currents that have their origin outside of Islam, why should that tradition then not continue to engage intellectual trends that remain active outside its borders? More deeply, what is it that really divides one culture from another, and, in an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, are traditional divisions still tenable?

Year two initiates a study of contemporary science and philosophy. Special attention is given to those aspects that lie at the fault lines with madrasa discourses on the nature of knowledge, the structure of the universe, and the place of human beings in the cosmos. The third year surveys recent Muslim attempts to engage modern thought, focusing especially on scholars of South Asia, and invites students to make their own creative contributions. In addition to online learning modules and lesson plans throughout the course of study, intensive summer programs bring students together to discuss case studies, work on analytical projects, embark on field experiences, and learn from an array of experts from different faiths and disciplines.

Envisioned as a course moving from history to science to theology (or past to present to future), the program hopes to engender creative thinking among the students whereby they begin to see their own tradition as part of a larger human and intercivilizational conversation around great questions on the origin and purpose of life. They will perceive tradition as something that is constructed in history by independent thinkers who used the most advanced intellectual tools at their disposal to interpret scripture in light of contemporary ideas, philosophies, and worldviews. By the end of the course, students will be on their way to thinking creatively in order to articulate Islamic thought using terms and concepts relevant to contemporary intellectual currents and modern global concerns.