The other day I was Skyping with a colonial America class at another college. One of the students asked me what the founding fathers would have thought about Islam. I answered the question, but after I got done with the class I realized I should have also recommended Denise Spellberg’s 2013 book Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.
Check out the recently announced forum at Immanent Frame on Spellberg’s book.
Here is what you can expect:
Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an was released in 2013, in the middle of Barack Obama’s second term as president of the United States. As we were reminded during the 2016 election season, both of President Obama’s campaigns for presidency were marked by accusations that he was a practicing Muslim and debates as to the legitimacy of a president with such a religious identity. Spellberg’s book was published as a timely history of the religious freedom debates during the founding of the United States, emphasizing the choice that the Founding Fathers made to create a new nation open to all religions. As Spellberg describes in her historical account, Thomas Jefferson argued for the inclusion of Muslims without knowing a Muslim individual; his theoretical sense of welcome toward them extended hospitality and legal protection to other religious minority groups at the time, including Jews and Catholics.
Detailing these debates around religious pluralism, Spellberg contributed to the defense against Islamophobia championed by those such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who in response to questions of Obama’s Muslimness asked, “What if he is? Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country?” Now, in 2017, Powell’s question back to his interviewers is more potent, as support for Muslim Americans as fully American citizens seems to be up for debate. Though similar conflicts are happening in other countries as well, the history of American religious pluralism as a founding principle shapes the conversation in a certain way in the United States.
In this short series, four scholars reflect on re-reading Spellberg’s text in 2017.
Follow along here.