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Religious Studies

Paul Powers

Department Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies

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J.R. Howard Hall

Paul Powers teaches a range of courses about Islam and Religious Studies. His courses include “Islamic Origins,” “Islam in the Modern World,” “Religious Fundamentalism,” “Sufism: Islamic Mysticism,” and a seminar on Islamic law. Many of these courses explore theoretical and methodological questions about the nature and study of religion, as well as gender-related issues and questions about the nature of “modernity.”


Fall 2016: 

RELS 104: Religion and Violence

Investigation of the oft-made claim that “religion causes much of the world’s violence,” exploring the best arguments for and against this proposition framed by maximalist claims that religion is inherently prone to inspiring violence, and minimalist claims that religion is either peaceful or subordinated to other (e.g., economic or political) concerns. Consideration of various definitions of “religion” to see how it might motivate a range of behaviors both peaceful and violent. Attention given to pervasive religious phenomena (such as sacrifice, conversion, holy/just war, and apocalypticism) that might inspire violence, as well as theological and ethical frameworks that may counteract violence. In a multi-stage, guided research project, students will pursue case studies of specific instances of violence apparently related to religion, thereby testing and employing the analytical lenses developed in the course.


RELS 453: Seminar: Islamic Law

The religio-legal traditions of Islam, the efforts to develop a comprehensive set of behavior guides derived from the Qur’an, the exemplary behavior of the Prophet, and other sources. Topics include legal history; efforts at modernization and reform; the formation of the major schools of law; legal theory and methods for deriving rules from sacred texts; the rules of ritual, civil, and criminal law; political theory; adjudication and court procedure; Islamic law and the colonial encounter; legal expressions of gender roles; and historical case studies.


Prof. Powers’ research interests focus on pre-modern Islam, especially Islamic law. He has published articles in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and Islamic Law and Society, as well as a book, Intent in Islamic law: Motive and Meaning in Medieval Sunni Fiqh (Brill, 2006). A central question of his research has been how Islamic law deals with human subjective states. He is currently undertaking a new project examining Islamic law in its cultural contexts, both pre-modern and modern; this project seeks to improve our understanding of how Muslims not formally educated in Islamic law have understood Islamic legal ideas, institutions, and representative persons (such as judges and legal scholars). He has traveled extensively in the Muslim world, including Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, and India.

Academic Credentials

Ph.D. 2001 University of Chicago Divinity School, History of Religions/Islamic Studies

M.A. 1992 University of Chicago Divinity School, B.A. 1990 Carleton College

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Religious Studies


Paul Powers’s office is located in room 222 of John R. Howard Hall.


voice 503-768-7289

Paul Powers Department Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Religious Studies Lewis & Clark 0615 S.W. Palatine Hill Road MSC 45 Portland OR 97219 USA

45.451619; -122.669391