Members of the community interested in Muslim history and culture will be able to enjoy “Let’s Talk About It: Muslim Journeys,” a free 5-week long book discussion group beginning Jan. 23 in the Great Books room in Payson Library.
Led by Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, Dr. David Simonowitz, the discussions — only open to the first 20 people who sign up with Sally Bryant at firstname.lastname@example.org — will feature five different books with topics ranging from Judaism to Christianity to Islam. After registering, attendees will receive a free copy of the book that will be discussed the corresponding week.
To finance the event the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association awarded Pepperdine a grant. “The grant funds a group focused on five insightful books which explore pathways of faith in Muslim history and culture,” Dean of Libraries Mark Roosa said.
Heading the event are Simonowitz and Sally Bryant, who is a librarian and Director of the Muslim Journeys Project at Payson Library. Simonowitz and Bryant worked together in submitting the grant proposal to NEH. “We were gratified that NEH thought highly enough of us to grant us this,” Roosa said. “This is one [event] that we’re particularly proud to offer.”
The NEH and the ALA prepared five lists of five books each, meaning that a set of 25 books was awarded to the educational institution that won the Muslim Journeys grant, Simonowitz wrote in an email.
On selecting the list of books for the discussions, Simonowitz wrote that the final list was chosen because “it incorporates a faith-based perspective in some readings, a comparative dimension in some of the others and it has the potential to complement interfaith endeavors.”
Roosa said Simonowitz was chosen to be the resident scholar on the project because “he has a deep and broad knowledge of Islamic culture and history.” Simonowitz lived and traveled in the Middle East for approximately 3 years, first witnessing the legacy of the Arab and Islamic culture while he lived in Spain and France.
In the discussions, Simonowitz, who speaks Arabic, Egyptian-Dialect Arabic, Persian, Spanish, French and English, will first give a short introductory presentation on each book, after which participants will discuss and share their opinions on the readings. “I will not be teaching a class in the strict sense,” he wrote in an email. “But rather facilitating discussion and debate among the participants.”
“It is intended to give almost anyone interested the opportunity to read books recognized by a team of scholars as providing illuminating perspectives on topics that may inspire or may pose difficulties for different audiences,” he wrote.
Roosa said the topic is timely. “It’s about tolerance. It’s about supporting dialogue and communication and building a civil society through discussion of issues that are of mutual interest to individuals.”
According to Roosa, approximately 100 students will attend the discussion groups, which will meet five Thursdays this spring.
Simonowitz called on members of the Pepperdine and local municipal communities to attend if they are “interested in learning about the experiences of Muslims and the experiences of non-Muslims in societies where Muslims have emigrated.”
He also wrote that the program is not aimed exclusively at students but at members of the local communities and those affiliated with the university alike.
Roosa said students should be drawn to the event since libraries are the crossroads on campus and that they should come and learn in a new kind of way.
“By offering programs like this we’re right where we should be, promoting cultural literacy and the flow of knowledge,” Roosa said.
Follow Ricardo Avila Alvarez on Twitter: @Ravila27
As published in the Jan. 16 issue of the Pepperdine Graphic.