'The Secret History of American Islamophobia'
The Goodspeed Endowed Lectureship welcomes Dr. Peter Gottschalk presenting ‘The Secret History of American Islamophobia.’
In the minds of many Americans, Islam is synonymous with the Middle East, Muslim men with violence, and Muslim women with oppression. In the post-9/11 world, a clash of civilizations appears to be increasingly manifest and the War on Terror seems a struggle against Islam. These are symptoms of Islamophobia.
The term “Islamophobia” accurately reflects the largely unexamined and deeply ingrained anxiety many Americans experience when considering Islam and Muslim cultures. Historically, Americans have seldom given voice to these anxieties since they have had, until the last half-century, few connections to Muslim cultures and a small domestic Muslim minority.
However, in times of crisis, such as the Iranian hostage situation or, most recently, the September 11th attacks, the long-simmering resentments, suspicions, and fears inherited along with a Christian European heritage manifest themselves most directly in conditions that appear to affirm Americans’ darkest concerns. Like a vicious cyclone feeding off of its own energy, Islamophobia takes uncommon events as evidence fitting its worst expectations and turns these into proof that perpetuates those ill-informed expectations.
Gottschalk writes both about Islamophobia in the United States and about Hindu-Muslim relations in India. At the heart of his work is a fascination with the dynamics of cultural interpretation and conflict. He is interested particularly in understanding how assumptions of mutual antagonism form between groups despite evidence of commonalities.
Gottschalk is a professor of religion at Wesleyan University. He received his B.A. in History at the College of the Holy Cross, his M.A. in South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his Ph.D. in the History of Religions from the University of Chicago.