A New Era in Religion Scholarship
Professor Amir Hussain, a Muslim, is the first editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion from a Catholic university.
Published: August 11, 2011
Amir Hussain, professor of theological studies at LMU, knocked out two firsts when he began his five-year tenure as editor of the prestigious Journal of the American Academy of Religion this year: He’s the first Muslim (a Sunni) to fill the position, and the first editor from a Catholic university. Hussain sat down with us to talk about his editorship, the value of religious difference and more. He was interviewed by José Martinez.
The Journal of the American Academy of Religion is a well-respected, top-of-the-line professional journal. What does it say about LMU that the publication is housed here?
The fact that the top journal in the field is published here at LMU is huge. We are the first Catholic University to host this journal. Think about the Catholic universities in this country. Loyola Marymount University is doing this, not Notre Dame, Georgetown or Boston College. It shows people that LMU is a place where really important work is being done.
You are the first Muslim editor of the journal. What took the journal so long?
The AAR, and the study of religion generally in this country, was focused on Christianity and Judaism for most of the 20th century. Not until the late ’60s and the early ’70s did we see the inclusion of traditions other than Christianity and Judaism, such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Also, the number of scholars of Islam has really grown in the last decade. Religion in America is no longer just about Christianity and Judaism.
Since 9/11, plenty of people associate Islam solely with extremism, violence and misogyny. Has your work attempted to combat that?
Yes. I did a Ph.D. dissertation looking at Muslim communities in North America. In 1997, that was interesting to some people but not a lot. After 9/11, it suddenly became interesting. It’s crucial to be able to say there has been violence, extremism and terrorism committed by Muslims; unfortunately, it’s still happening. But what else are Muslims doing that we may not know about? The majority of American Muslims are an American success story. Do we know that story — that they are successful precisely because they embrace and value the things that America represents?
You do a lot of ecumenical work. Are there factors that divide religious traditions and others that unite them?
We don’t need to downplay the differences: Catholics aren’t the same as Muslims. Muslims aren’t the same as Hindus. You can see that as a problem or you can see that as a wonderful opportunity. Our religious traditions — whether in the form of the Bible’s teachings or those of the Prophet — tell us it’s our job to take care of the hungry, to house the homeless and clothe the naked. How do you work together on that? Those kinds of opportunities are tremendous.
Did you live in Canada long enough to become a hockey fan?
I live and die with my Montreal Canadiens. I was going to say it’s our national sport, but it’s really our state religion, I think. It’s what brings us together as a people.
Imagine this scenario: I’m about to steal your entire music collection. Since I’m a decent guy, I’ll leave you two cds — one by a Western artist and one by a Muslim artist. Which two do you want me to leave behind for you?
If there’s one Western artist I would keep selfishly to myself, it would be Jim Cuddy. Jim’s a Canadian singer-songwriter who works solo as well as with his band, Blue Rodeo. And the Muslim artist would be Richard Thompson. But I don't know that I could live with only one CD or two CDs.