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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Engaging Islam Conference Wrap Up

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The 2007 Fall Institute held the conference “Engaging Islam: Feminists, Religiosities and Self-determination” from Sept. 12 to 16. The conference, a group effort by director Rajini Srikanth and co-chairs Elora Chowdhury and Leila Farsakh, was set to explore the religion of Islam and to challenge assumptions that many have about it through seven panel discussions with 38 total invited speakers, panel presenters and panel discussants.

The conference, the first of its kind at UMass Boston, saw about 100 people show up each day. Larger audience fluctuations came from students who attended as part of a class and left after class periods, but most people stayed for at least an hour.

Srikanth said that the people who attended the sessions were engaged with the speakers and presentations, and that she got a lot of positive feedback from many in the UMass Boston community.

“Part of the excitement,” she said, “was that we were able to bring to our campus internationally renowned scholars of Islam and feminism and the kind of speakers that you normally wouldn’t think we were capable of attracting, but we often don’t get taken seriously as a place of scholarship and research, so this conference really proved that wrong.”

Planning “Engaging Islam” took two years. The first part of the process was obtaining the grant from the Ford Foundation, which was awarded in 2006. The second year was dedicated to planning the conference and scheduling speakers.

“There was so much energy generated from this conference,” Srikanth said. “We had the participants telling us ‘we hope you guys are going to do this again; we hope this is going to become an annual affair,’ and we said, ‘well, look, we would love to have it, but I don’t think we can do it every year.’ We would probably think about doing it every other year, just because of all of the work involved.”

Srikanth said that their hard work paid off, as the conference brought “a lot of open dialogue on provocative issues,” and introduced many to how complex Islam is. As well, she mentioned how proud they were to bring to UMass Boston the caliber of speakers that they were able to get.

“I think, oftentimes, that gets forgotten, because we happen to be in a city with all of these ‘brand-name’ institutions,” Srikanth said. “But, the scholars who came here were so impressed by the quality of the questions from the audience, and I want our students and our faculty to know how incredibly gratifying it is because it shows the rest of the world that we are a really serious institution of learning. We are so happy and so proud of what UMass Boston was able to do and that we actually put ourselves on the map in the study of Islam and feminism.”