SPARTANBURG, S.C. – It was an idea whose time had come, and it took hold at Wofford College – a new book on how to teach high school and college students about Islam in an age where misinformation and fear are heightened through social media and the internet.
Dr. Courtney Dorroll, assistant professor of religion, was the editor and co-author of the introduction and a chapter in the new book, “Teaching Islamic Studies in the Age of ISIS, Islamophobia, and the Internet.” Two other Wofford professors, Dr. Kimberly Hall, assistant professor of English, and Dr. Philip Dorroll, assistant professor of religion, also contributed to the book. Emily Witsell, research librarian and instruction coordinator in Wofford’s Sandor Teszler Library, served as the copyeditor and indexed the book. Both Courtney Dorroll and Philip Dorroll are coordinators for Wofford’s Middle Eastern and North African Studies Program (MENA).
“There hadn’t been a book about Islamic pedagogy since the early 2000s,” Courtney Dorroll explains, “so the field was ready for an update on how teachers cover these topics.”
The idea for the book was born in 2015 when Dorroll’s mentor, Dr. Richard Martin, professor emeritus of religion at Emory University, spoke at Wofford on the topic. “The talk attracted a large audience and after the talk concluded, over dinner, Dr. Martin and I started to discuss the idea of creating a book focused on his talk’s main points.” Martin helped Dorroll find appropriate sources in the field of Islamic studies who could contribute to the book, and he authored the book’s forward.
“As editor of the volume, I wanted to find scholars who were both Muslim and non-Muslim at both large state schools and small liberal arts colleges to discuss openly how they teach Islam today,” she says. “It just so happens some really fabulous teachers are right here at Wofford, so I reached out to Phil and Kimberly to contribute to the edited volume because they had worked on topics and projects directly related to teaching Islam.”
Philip Dorroll solo-authored a chapter titled “The Five Questions about Islam Your Students Didn’t Know They Had: Teaching Islamic Studies to an American Audience,” and Hall co-authored with Courtney Dorroll and Doaa Baumi, who teaches at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, a chapter titled “On Teaching Islam Across Cultures: Virtual Exchange and Pedagogy.”
“It was our Wofford classrooms that helped produce our chapters in the book,” Courtney Dorroll explains. “Kimberly and I wrote about using a virtual exchange connecting our Wofford students with students in Lebanon and Egypt. Phil used his five-plus years of teaching introductory Islam at Wofford to construct his chapter on the five questions students want to ask about Islam.”
Hall says her experience with Courtney Dorroll in incorporating a virtual exchange into her Global Digital Cultures course helped in writing the book chapter. “The students enrolled in this upper-division seminar participated in a virtual exchange with students at the American University of Beirut as part of their survey of non-Western digital cultures. The students were overwhelmingly positive about the exchange because it gave them a first-person experience with the cultures they were studying. For our book chapter, we described the process of scaffolding and executing the virtual exchange, but we also were able to discuss the theory behind both digital learning and intercultural competence that informed our pedagogical design.”
Witsell, who copyedited and indexed the volume, says, “This book fills an important need for college professors teaching in MENA fields at both large and small colleges. It’s a privilege to help bring this book to the public.”
Dorroll adds, “We are lucky to be a college that really values good teaching and exploration of the scholarship of teaching and learning, so those things combined helped us on the book.”
Beyond Wofford in discussions with other professors of Islam at conferences and workshops, Dorroll says, she found that many student from Spartanburg to Boston had similar questions about Islam. “A meta-conversation needed to occur because what was happening at Wofford was happening at other places, and what we do in our classrooms at Wofford could help a future teacher approach this subject.”
Philip Dorroll says learning about Islam is important to students today because “understanding religious diversity in the United States is a crucial part of supporting one’s community. It’s critical that college students gain an accurate and unprejudiced understanding of the different religious traditions that make up the communities in which they will live and work.”
As for his chapter, he explains the five questions “students don’t know they have about Islam”:
Is Islam inherently violent?
No. No religion is inherently violent or inherently peaceful. Like other world religions, Islamic ethics emphasize peace and reconciliation.
Does Islam want to dominate non-Muslim societies or politics?
No. Like other world religions, Islam has no specific political objective and is most concerned about living in accordance with religious teaching.
Is Islam inherently oppressive to women?
No. No religion has a unified teaching on gender relations; these vary widely depending on context.
Who are the terrorists (such as ISIS) and where do they come from?
These movements are called “jihadists,” and they are the product of 20th-century ideologies and political conditions. They have no basis in traditional Islamic teachings.
Is Islam a threat to the United States?
No, for all the reasons stated above. Millions of Muslims live in accordance with their faith in the United States alongside members of other faiths and are integral parts of American history and American identity.