Dr. Ellen McLarney’s “Local Islams” course offers an introduction to Islamic communities in North Carolina and their diverse spaces, practices, and ethnicities. The course strives to develop students’ knowledge and experience of Islam—complementing the study of its fundamental principles with an understanding of specific practices. It also brings students into contact with the African American Muslim community and immigrant groups of various ethnic backgrounds. For Muslim students, this provides an opportunity to foster relationships between local communities and Duke University. For those with little or no experience with the religion, this communication and collaboration helps to humanize and demystify Islam.
Since 2005, the “Local Islams” course has examined how civic and religious roles converge in communal spaces, schools, and local businesses. The course is particularly interested in how religion shapes the identities of immigrant groups, but also how religion breaks down ethnic barriers and collapses distinctions of class, race, and nationality. “Local Islams” looks at the relationships between Iranian, Arab, South Asian and Southeast Asian communities, as well as the nature of their interaction with African American Muslims. One of the questions the course poses is: What does it mean to be a Muslim American? A significant body of work in the field explores this issue, of local and global, national and transnational identities. The course also critically examines the persistence of divisions and differences, a crucial aspect to the diversity of any community. The course also explored differing conceptions of gender roles, how these transform in different contexts and in response to varying pressures.