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The University of Toronto's Connaught Summer Institute on Islamic Studies is an initiative made possible by a special grant from the University’s Connaught Fund, which aims to foster new methods of research and innovation. The Summer Institute on Islamic Studies is a three-year collaboration between members from the Faculty of Law and Emmanuel College to support graduate research and forge new ground in the study of Islam.
The Summer Institute will bring faculty and pre-dissertation graduate students together to scrutinize how the subjects that fall under the various labels of “Islamic Studies” or “Muslim Studies” are framed. The use of the passive voice in the previous sentence is deliberate. Framing implies boundaries. Boundaries imply an inside and an outside, or more actively, inclusion and exclusion. To examine the conditions of framing is to bring into focus how features of inclusion, exclusion, belonging, and difference contribute to how we as researchers both define the research subject, and relate to our research subject. Embedding ourselves in the City of Toronto, we will examine how difference and belonging complicates how we as researchers define the research subject in Islamic studies, and problematizes our relationship to the research subject. By the end of the Institute, fellows will leave with a more robust awareness of the epistemic conditions that pertain to any research endeavor than when they first arrived. Moreover, they will be empowered with new and innovative approaches that they can bring to the study of Islam in the 21stcentury.
A hallmark of the Summer Institute on Islamic Studies is its creative pedagogy. The pedagogy has three distinct components: site visits to different Muslim communities in the Greater Toronto Area; formal classroom discussions on issues of research design and method; small group facilitation to enhance critical reflection on each graduate fellow’s research project and agenda. This tri-partite pedagogy is drawn from the long-standing innovative work of the International Summer School on Religion and Public Life (ISSRPL), as well as its various international affiliate programs in Bulgaria, Uganda, and Botswana. The first principle of this pedagogyis that knowledge is collective, not individual:
What we know, we know collectively, as part of a group. Our categories, ways of understanding, moral judgments, boundaries of what is permissible and prohibited, basic frames of meanings, fears and desires – all these are in a strong sense, social. We hold them together with others and not simply as individual beliefs.
In the case of the ISSRPL and its global affiliates, the participants are often activists, religious clerics, and in some cases academics – all of whom have a commitment to peace and are interested in working through difference. At the end of ISSRPL programs, participants go back to their home institutions and continue their work. But they do not reflect on the implications of that pedagogy for advanced research. That is not the mandate of those programs. The Summer Institute on Islamic Studies benefits from the network that has formed around the ISSRPL, but also goes beyond it to explore the implications of this pedagogy upon advanced research in the field of Islamic studies.