Thursday, October 10, 2013

Heading over to New Orleans for the annual MESA meeting

by Salman Hameed

I'll be leaving for the annual MESA meeting early tomorrow morning. I'm part of the panel on The Reception of Biological Evolution in the Muslim World and we will present some of our results from
the recent NSF survey. Our panel has the honor of being scheduled on the last session of the last day of the conference. So if you are at the meeting and are sticking around on Sunday, come to our session. Here is the description of our panel:
We are familiar with debates over biological evolution here in the US. These debates are now starting to take place in various Muslim countries as well. In this panel we want to take an interdisciplinary approach to understand the reception of biological evolution in diverse Muslim societies. In particular, we want to explore how belief, ideology and politics interplay with each other in the acceptance and rejection of evolution. 
Biological evolution is still a relatively new concept for a majority of Muslims and a serious debate over its compatibility with religion has not yet taken place. The circumstances for the debate are, in many ways, significantly different from the engagement between evolution and Creationism in the West, reflecting a complex intermingling of ideas about science and religion. For example, much of modern science, including evolution, is an import for Muslims, and is therefore often seen through the complicated lens of modernity and the interactions with European colonial powers. 
However, science in general is well respected, and there is widespread recognition that science (usually in its applied form) is essential for progress. For instance, many Muslim countries are investing in biomedical fields that make use of evolutionary theory. Evolution is also included the high school curricula of many Muslim countries, though human evolution is often excluded. 
This reflects the prevailing narrative in the Muslim world that Islam and modern science are compatible, and that Islam is a rational religion in harmony with modern science. It is common for people to cite verses in the Qur’an or achievements of medieval Muslim philosophers to support this assertion. However, for many Muslims, biological evolution also clashes with common Qur’anic interpretations. This leads to a complex mesh of attitudes, ranging from rejecting evolution altogether to interpreting the Qur’an in ways that eliminate inconsistencies with the theory. 
The goal of this panel is to present the topic from three perspectives: a) to present an analysis of high-school biology curricula in various Muslim-majority countries so see how evolution is presented and contextualized with respect to Islam, b) to present an analysis of the way biomedical Muslim professionals negotiate evolution and their beliefs, and the local cultural and political factors that might shape these responses, and c) to present the perspective of professional Muslim biologists engaged in dialogue with theologians and the general public on the topic of evolution.
Unfortunately, one of our panelists, Ehab Abouheif, cannot make it to the meeting. But you will still get to hear from the rest of us.

I will also try to post from sessions that are relevant for the blog. 


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