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Religious Studies

Paul Powers

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 2018 Courses:

RELS 274: Islam in the Modern World
MWF 1:50PM - 2:50PM

The religious, social, and political dynamics of the Islamic world, circa 1300 C.E. to present, especially the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries. Earlier developments (e.g., the Qur’an, Muhammad, Muslim dynasties) considered in relation to the modern context. European colonialism, postcolonial change, reform and “fundamentalist” movements, Sufism, Muslim views of “modernity,” and changing understandings of politics, gender, and relations with non-Muslims.

Prerequisites: None.


RELS 355: Sufism: Islamic Mysticism
TTH 1:50PM - 3:20PM

The historical roots and branches of Sufi Islam, including the search for the “inner meaning” of the Qur’an, complex metaphysical formulations, ascetic assertions, meditation practices, devotional ruminations on love, and Sufi poetry and music. Discussion of the important role of Sufism in the spread of Islam. Muslim critiques of Sufism and Sufi responses.

Prerequisites: RELS 273

Restrictions: Sophomore standing required.


RELS 376: Religious Fundamentalism
TTH 9:40AM - 11:10AM

The perceptions and realities of religious resurgence in a supposedly secularizing world. Focus on the historical, theological, social, and political aspects of Christian and Islamic fundamentalism. Themes include secularization theories and their critics; changing understandings of religion and modernity; connections among religion, politics, violence, sexuality/gender, and identity.

Prerequisites: RELS 254 or RELS 274.

Restrictions: Sophomore 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. 

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