Gordon in the News: last updated 08/07/2008

Rethinking Secularism In The Middle East

August 7, 2008           

Jo Kadlecek
Office of College Communications

WENHAM, MA- In an age when religion and secularism are often perceived as opposites, Dr. Ahmet T. Kuru of Columbia University believes the two have much to offer each other. Consequently, Gordon College has invited him to address that relationship on Thursday, August 28, in the first of the 2008-2009 Faith Seeking Understanding lecture series, co-hosted by the Jerusalem and Athens Forum and the Center for Christian Studies.

In his lecture entitled, "Western Secularism and the Middle East," Kuru will explore how American and French models of church-state separation might be relevant for present-day realities in the Middle East. As the assistant director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion in Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, Kuru has devoted his scholarship to the role religion plays in cultural and political contexts. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington, Seattle, and is currently completing Secularism and State Policies toward Religion: The United States, France, and Turkey, published by Cambridge University Press. The book is based on Kuru's dissertation, which received the Aaron Wildavsky Award for the best dissertation of 2007 in the Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

"Professor Kuru has a deep knowledge of the history of religious tolerance, secularism, and church-state separation in America and Europe," said Thomas Albert Howard, associate professor of history and director of the Jerusalem and Athens Forum at Gordon College. "He is especially keen to apply his knowledge of these issues to questions of religion and politics in the Middle East, and in the process, help Western audiences better understand the political and religious dynamics of Islamic countries. I expect he will give the greater Gordon and Essex County community much to think about." In addition to his current work, Dr. Kuru's publications also include book chapters, essays, reviews, and articles in such journals as Political Science Quarterly, World Politics, and Central Asian Survey.

"Questions about the compatibility of Islam and secularism are misleading unless the researcher is aware of diverse interpretations of these two concepts," said Kuru, referring to his upcoming lecture at the Christian liberal arts college. "In the Muslim geography, from Turkey to Tunisia, from Uzbekistan to Syria, what people have experienced has been assertive secularism, which does not tolerate religion in the public sphere. Muslim populations may want to rethink secularism as they recognize an alternative, passive secularism that respects individual religious liberty and tolerates public visibility of religion."

A reception for Dr. Kuru will take place Thursday, August 28, in the Ken Olsen Science Center Mezzanine at 4 p.m. His lecture will follow in the Ken Olsen Science Center Auditorium at 4:30 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.

Dr. Kuru's talk is the first of the Faith Seeking Understanding lectures this year at Gordon College. The 2008-09 series promises to be a stimulating one and includes speakers such as Francis Collins, Os Guinness, and Amy Sherman. The Faith Seeking Understanding lecture series has been held at Gordon College since 2003, and is funded in part by the Lilly Endowment, Inc.  For a full listing of events, visit www.gordon.edu/fsu.   

For more information, please contact at 978.867.4260 in the Office of College Communications. To speak with someone regarding upcoming events through the Faith Seeking Understanding lecture series, please contact the Jerusalem and Athens Forum at or 978.867.4227.

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Gordon College is a Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston's North Shore. The college offers majors in 37 fields and has graduate programs in education and music education. Leading the way in Christian college merit, Gordon is nationally ranked for its excellence in academics and its role in character building. These achievements recognize Gordon as one of the nation's top Christian colleges.