Bucknell is devoted to everything I believe in for the humanities in terms of creating well-rounded individuals and scholars.

Ali Karjoo-Ravary

"I was always interested in language, and religions are like languages. Each has its own vocabulary," says Professor Ali Karjoo-Ravary, religious studies.

In his research and in the classroom, the inaugural recipient of the Josephine Hildreth Detmer & Zareen Taj Mirza Professorship of Islamic Studies focuses on the continuity of ideas from pre-modern to modern Islam. Armed with research competency in seven languages, he delves into aspects of the history of Islam that are perceived to be contradictory.

One common example is how Islamic law is seen as austere and strict while Sufism is perceived as lenient, focused on love poetry and art. While these traditions might appear to be opposing, he explores the frameworks in which they are complementary, each shaping people's lives in its own way.

In his classroom, Karjoo-Ravary uses music and manuscripts to share the literature he studies, which often combines two or three languages and has to be performed. "I use recordings and videos and try to take students to live performances," he says.

The way people access knowledge is critical in their understanding of and reaction to material, notes Karjoo-Ravary, who wants his students to see the "materiality" of pre-modern texts. Aesthetics were a huge part of reading a book in the Middle East, he explains, and early printing could not reproduce the artwork and script correctly. It wasn't until lithography came about, allowing the preservation of the "look of the book," that print spread like wildfire, which had a profound effect on individuals' access to and understanding of the material.

When he's not studying ancient texts, Karjoo-Ravary can often be found grilling meat for the kebabs that are a "lifeline" to the food he's eaten all over the world. In fact, food figures prominently in a course he's developing, which will explore smell and taste in relationship to religion. Tea and coffee rituals, paired with incense and perfumes, are inseparable from religious life in places such as Yemen, Turkey and Iran. Through critically investigating these practices, he encourages his students to fully engage their senses when learning about any new topic.

The University's liberal arts philosophy offers the perfect environment for this kind of exploration, he says. "Bucknell is devoted to everything I believe in for the humanities in terms of creating well-rounded individuals and scholars."

Posted August 2018