Imaging Islam: Gender, Race, and American Protestant Encounters with Muslims

“Through a robust examination of American religious history and of early Protestant encounters with Muslims in Asia, North Africa, and the United States, this study offers a new way for churches to understand and respond to the anti-Muslim sentiments and violent Islamophobic acts that have surged in the 21st-century United States. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Deanna Ferree Womack Candler School of Theology at Emory University Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

Views of Islam as innately violent and oppressive to women have long been part of American Protestant narratives, but such discourses pose a critical dilemma today. The problem is not limited to white supremacists who uphold Anglo-Saxon Protestant heritage as the cornerstone of US culture or to far-right leaders who identify Muslim immigrants as the “enemy within.” Many American Protestants subscribe to essentialist, racist notions about Islamic patriarchy and violence. My project identifies the historical role of Anglophone Protestant thought in shaping such notions and it provides resources for advancing Christian-Muslim relations today. This book centers on the ideas that American and British Protestant missionaries, scholars, and tourists in the Islamic world conveyed to their constituents back home from the late 18th to the mid-20th centuries. This study traces the roots of Anglophone Protestant discourses on women and violence in Islam that have prevented American Protestants from interrogating their own racialized views of Muslims, from acknowledging the diverse understandings of gender across the Islamic world, and from allowing Muslim women and men to represent their own lives and experiences.

I conducted most of the archival research for this book from 2018 to 2020 in church, mission, and seminary archives in the US, UK, and Middle East. With support from the Louisville Institute for a year-long sabbatical, I intend to spend the summer and early fall of 2021 completing my research at several denominational libraries that I could not visit in spring and summer of 2020 due to COVID-19. I will then focus the remainder of my sabbatical on analyzing my source materials and writing the book. My audience for this research includes pastors, Christian educators, seminarians, North American congregations, and an interdisciplinary group of scholars who work on Christian-Muslim relations, especially at theological institutions.