Our world is marked by difference. The inability to engage with and understand these differences has led to polarizations, tensions and conflict in many societies. In recent decades, these conflicts have been particularly acute and tragic when they are framed in religious terms. Illiteracy about the nature of religion has led to political climates that are crippling intellectually and threatening to the pluralistic fabric of society. This talk will discuss the importance of promoting literacy about the relationship between religion and culture as one of the essential pre-requisites for the well-being of societies and the project of democracy globally.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Ali Asani is Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures and former Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard. After completing his high school education in Kenya, he attended Harvard College, with a concentration in the Comparative Study of Religion. He continued his doctoral work at Harvard in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Prof. Asani holds a joint appointment between the Committee on the Study of Religion and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. He also serves on the faculty of the Departments of South Asian Studies and African and African-American Studies. At Harvard he offers instruction in a variety of South Asian and African languages and literatures as well as courses on various aspects of the Islamic tradition including Understanding Islam and Contemporary Muslim Societies, Religion, Literature and the Arts in Muslim Cultures, Muslim Voices in Contemporary World Literatures, Introduction to Islamic Mysticism (Sufism), and Muslim Societies in South Asia.
Author of several books and numerous articles, Professor Asani has been particularly active post-Sept 11 in improving public understanding of Islam and its role in Muslim societies. He conducts workshops for educators as well as presents at various public forums. He is particularly interested in the arts, broadly defined, as the primary means by which Muslims have experienced their faith and their potential as pedagogic bridges to foster a better understanding of the Islamic tradition. Professor Asani is recipient of the Harvard Foundation medal for his outstanding contributions to improving intercultural and race relations by promoting a better understanding of Islam and Muslim Civilizations. More recently he was awarded the Petra C. Shattuck prize for excellence in teaching by Harvard's Division of Continuing Education.