Welcome to the newly redesigned website of the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) at the University of Toronto. The IIS is devoted to supporting advanced research in the study of Islam and Muslims. As director of the IIS, it is a privilege to lead an advanced research institute in this historical moment. It’s often easy to assume these days that any study of Islam or Muslims will necessarily draw inspiration from the fervent, if not paranoid, debates around the world on multiculturalism, religious freedom, and national security. However, as director of an institute devoted to advanced research, I firmly believe that intellectual achievement cannot be measured by the number of Re-Tweets or Facebook ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. I take inspiration from Abraham Flexner, who wrote in 1939 that however much we concern ourselves with the ailments of the world, we cannot reduce the value of advanced research to its practical application, or the immediate interests that it serves. Using the natural sciences as an example, he wrote “throughout the whole history of science most of the really great discoveries which had ultimately proved to be beneficial to mankind had been made by men and women who were driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.” What might appear useless research today may be undeniably transformative tomorrow. The IIS, as part of a university culture committed to academic freedom, recognizes the importance of creating the conditions necessary for tomorrow’s possibilities. In this spirit, the IIS will sponsor in the 2018-2019 academic year three collaborative research labs that purposely aim high, far, and wide. The IIS will also host regular monthly workshops to generate innovative conversations on research methods, archival analysis, and data development. And at various points in the academic year, the IIS will bring to the city intellectual leaders from around the world.
It would be irresponsible, however, if the IIS pursued advanced research in total disregard of our historical moment. As much as Flexner himself waxed eloquently about the value of advanced research for its own sake, he was not immune to the travails of his era. Neither are we. The IIS exists at a time when people, communities, and states around the world vigorously (and sometimes vexatiously) deploy certain reductive images of ‘Islam’ and the ‘Muslim’ to justify a wide range of governance projects. Located within a public university in a democratic state, the IIS has an institutional responsibility to enhance the quality and robustness of democratic debate, especially at a time of increasing militancy and illiberalism among states once considered bulwarks of democratic freedom. Through partnerships with community organizations at the municipal, provincial, federal, and international levels, the IIS will leverage the excellence of university research to recalibrate public debates about Islam and Muslims that take place across the globe.
Over the course of the 2018-2019 academic year, I invite you to attend IIS workshops, participate in our research labs, or listen to gifted scholars speak in different venues, to distinct audiences, across the Greater Toronto Area. Bookmark our website and share it with your friends. Check our calendar of events for updates on our programming. In short, be a part of our community.
Anver M. Emon