Department Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies
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,” “Religion and Violence,” “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.”
Spring 2019 Courses:
RELS 104: Religion and Violence
MWF 9:40PM - 11:10PM
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 490: Senior Thesis
TTH 1:50PM - 3:20PM
Advanced readings and major works in religion. In consultation with faculty, selection of a thesis topic and further reading in the discipline and research in the topic area. Substantial written document demonstrating mastery of theory and
methodology in the study of religion and the ability to integrate these into the thesis topic.
Restrictions: Senior standing required.
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, the Journal of Religion and Violence, and Islamic Law and Society, and has contributed chapters to several volumes in Islamic legal studies. HIs first book, Intent in Islamic law: Motive and Meaning in Medieval Sunni Fiqh (Brill, 2006), explores how Islamic law deals with human subjective states.
His latest article is “Territory is Not Map: Deterritorialisation, Mere Religion, and the Islamic State,” forthcoming in the Journal of Religion and Violence.
Prof. Powers is currently at work on a book tentatively titled Religion and Violence: A Religious Studies Approach. This project explores the relevance of classic religious studies theories for increasing our understanding of the relationship between religion and violence.
He has traveled extensively in the Muslim world, including Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, and India.
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