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Abdullah advisor speaks to The Hoot about joining NEJS faculty

By Carolyn Weisman

Section: News

October 28, 2005

Come fall of 2006, Brandeis will welcome Dr. Joseph Lumbard into the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department as a fulltime professor of Islamic Studies. Dr. Lumbard comes to the Brandeis community from the administration of King Abdullah of Jordan, where he currently serves as the advisor on interfaith affairs to the king.

As a member of the NEJS department, Dr. Lumbard will be offering courses related to classical Islam and Islamic religion and culture. His main scholarly interest is in Sufism, though he also has a very strong interest between classical Islam and the modern world, says NEJS Department chair, Marc Brettler of his soon-to-be colleague.

It is precisely this passion for the foundations and principles of Islam that led Dr. Lumbard to such a high-ranking and influential position in the Middle Eastern political arena. As an undergraduate at George Washington University, Lumbard found his passion for religious studies, graduating with a degree in English Literature and Religious Studies. He then went on to Yale to receive his M. Phil. (2000) and Ph.D. (2003).

During his time as a student, he chose to submit to or embrace Islam as his own religion. After sorting through his knowledge of different religions as an undergraduate, he holds that Islam was the one that worked best for me. His interest in Sufism, which he defines as an attempt to live the principles of Islam as fully and as deeply as possible, has propelled him to great success as an Islamic scholar. The study of religions and mysticism is what has always grabbed me the most. It is rare that religions meet in an ultimate purpose of inner-purification.

After spending two years (beginning in January 2003) as a professor of Islamic Studies at the American University in Cairo, Dr. Lumbard said that he came upon his position with King Abdullahs administration through a stroke of luck. He spent a significant amount of time traveling and living throughout the Arab world during his time at Yale, and began to develop a substantial amount of firsthand knowledge of the Islamic culture and its pertinent issues. If you want to talk about interfaith relations around the Arab world, you must be able to back it up with evidence from the Koran. It was important for me to be able to communicate my ideas in both Arabic and English.
Under King Abdullah, Dr. Lumbard works mostly on researching the classical texts of Islam. The king has a particular message, said Lumbard, he is working to get beyond the clash of civilizations, by realizing common principles of all civilizations, derived from the core values of religions. In order to achieve this goal, actions and statements must be justified by the text of the Koran, we need to be able to say that we did our homework.

Currently he has no plans to remain active in Jordanian politics after his move to the Boston area next year. He is anxious to continue his studies at Brandeis, as the university gives its professors time to research, and values it. As for the transition from politics to academia, he is eager to bring his knowledge and experiences into the classroom: Politics is one thing and academics another. I could not imagine anything more fulfilling than being a university professor.

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