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Ultimate Concerns features interviews and discussions with religion experts about their research. Insights from these discussions are applied to contemporary cultural and political questions. Topics are related to many different religions (such as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism) and methods of study (such as literary studies, history, theology, and philosophy). Ron Mourad, professor of religious studies at Albion College, hosts the show.

Nov 17, 2016

What is causing contemporary Islamophobia and how should we think about it ethically and politically? This episode features Carl Ernst, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. We discuss his book, Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance. It's available here:

First, we discuss the spread of anti-Islamic propaganda groups over past 15 years. Some of them are tracked and profiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center: Christopher Bail analyzes others in his book, Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream

We also explore several other explanations of Islamophobia. We discuss popular, nativist tendencies to blame social and economic problems on those perceived as cultural outsiders. Then we consider the role of the American government at the national and local levels. Finally, we speculate about anti-Islamic attitudes among the religiously unaffiliated.

Second, we discuss critics of the category of Islamophobia who claim that it’s a “politically correct” attempt to shut down meaningful debate about Islam, and we draw distinctions between Islamophobia and ethical criticism. In this section, Ernst refers to the work of his UNC colleague Charles Kurzman:

Our third topic is how to respond to Islamophobia. We discuss the problematic strategy of idealizing Islam – Islamophilia. Then we turn to education, face-to-face human interaction, art, and satire. Ernst recommends novels by Muslim authors like The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Syrian-American author Mohja Kahf:

And, fourth, we talk about two specific cases. First, we look back on a controversy at UNC about teaching parts of the Qur’an to first-year students in 2002. Ernst reflects on his involvement in the controversy and lessons he learned. Second, we talk about the rhetoric and policy proposals of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

Additional music by (“Long Live Death” and “I Like Peanuts”)