Monday, July 20, 2015

Dissertation Complete!

 In June I successfully defended my dissertation called American Islam, the Next Generation: 
Young Adult Muslim Americans on Campus— Faith, Identities, Citizenship, Gender, and Pluralism
. Thank you to Drs. Muhamad Ali, Karen Leonard, Sherine Hafez, and Michael Alexander for serving on my dissertation committee and to my friends, family, other instructors throughout the years, and UC Riverside for all their support. I am looking to turn some of its chapter sections into journal articles and soon get a book contract to revise it for publication. My chapters are the following:


Young Adult Muslim Americans: Locating Research and Researcher, Methods and Theory of the Study
Individuation in Relationships: The Ecology of Islamic Identity Formation among young adult American heritage Muslims
The Islam of the Young Generation: Totally American, Totally Muslim
Young Adult Muslim Americans and Gender: Finding their own Way
Out of Many One: Young Adult Muslim Americans Dealing with Differences
 Ethical Encounters with Young Adult Muslim Americans

The Abstract for the dissertation reads:
This dissertation highlights context and the contours of the religious discourse of young adult Muslim Americans on university campuses in the Pacific West of the United States. It specifically focuses on the second generation children of Muslim immigrants and their leadership approaches to college Muslim Student Associations [MSA].  Based off data from eighty in-depth interviews with this population and some converts, extensive participant observation, and an online survey, this study also employs sociological analysis, phenomenology, hermeneutics, and comparative ethics to identify the ways this demographic draws on scriptural sources to articulate the significance of their faith in an American environment.  Chapter One explores the social matrix in which heritage Muslims come to embrace and assert Islam as a central facet of their personal identity. In particular it identifies the importance of family upbringing, peer relationships, prejudice and stereotyping of Muslims, and multiculturalism. Chapter Two discloses many core features of a “Muslim” identity, and the ways it relates to their nationality “American” and various other demarcations and activities of their personal identity. Chapter Three presents MSAs’ institutional practices and individual interpretations related to envisioned binaries of male and female, analyzing how they believe women and men should relate to each other on campus, in families, and in their roles in public life. It also presents their perspectives of homosexuality. Chapter Four tackles the question of how young Muslims conceptualize and deal with religious, ethnic, and racial differences. This chapter discloses dynamics of inclusivity, prejudice, trans-ethnic friendship, marriage ideals with ethnic others, and young Muslims’ sometimes embracing and sometimes censuring Islamic sectarian diversity. It also divulges their perspectives on soteriology of non-Muslims. This research counters previous simplifications of young American Muslims on campus as fundamentalist, exclusive, uncritical, and militant yet also complicates reifications of them as liberal, democratic, and inclusive, presenting their diverse interpretations to their faith and detailing the particular ways and for what purposes they perform conservative, exclusive, liberal, and inclusive approaches to Islam. This dissertation reveals young adult Muslim Americans on campus creatively negotiate what they learn about their Islamic tradition with American ideals, constituting diverse expositions of their Faith.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Young American Muslim Leaders and Activists of a New Islam:
Freedom in Sacred Boundaries and the Liberating Horizons of Pluralism

Earlier this year I began work on my dissertation which is the cumulative project of the PhD work, to provide evidence that I am capable of contributing meaningful, fresh research to my field.  This project studies how young college Muslims and recent graduates are making sense of and articulating their faith within their American context in 2013-2014.  As religious sources are always interpreted through the lens of one's own social-historical situation and certain forms of Islamic revivalism from the 19th century has encouraged Muslims to look at their faith afresh and adapt it to the needs of current society, very compelling debates and negotiation is occurring as to what Islam should look like and Muslims should practice it in this country, although conclusions arrived at are frequently normalized and claimed to be the global standard for all Muslims.  These debates are strongly influenced by emerging global ethical ideals of unity in diversity, inclusion, peaceful forms of problem solving, gender equality, and inter-religious respect and cooperation.  My project looks at how young adult American Muslims are approaching their Scriptures anew to create forms of Islamic belief and practice that sometimes challenges but is often a harmonious yet unique reflection of these salient global moral principles.  

A recent abstract I wrote on my project explains it in this way:

A pluralism of engagement and collaboration, with its concomitant ideals of socio-economic equity and gender equality, is among the highest ethical ideals many Americans are striving to realize for our nation in this century.  This is also one of the key lens and standards by which we evaluate the characteristics of religious groups of our country.  Young Muslim American activists—who have been and are at the forefront of publicly articulating the terms by which an American Islam is defined—have not at all been insulated from this moral principle and its related debates.  Rather, many of them are making fresh investigations into their authoritative sacred sources to find injunctions that are not only in harmony with this value but encourages them to create spaces more inclusive of Muslim diversity of belief and practice, as well as weave deeper friendships and constructive partnerships with non-Muslims individuals, ethnic, and religious groups.  Through participant observation and semi-structured interviews of the leaders and members of college Muslim Student Associations, I am investigating the nuances of this dynamic, its implications for the pluralistic ethic itself, and its consequences for how Muslims and the broader America might come together in mutually enriching, close integrative relationships.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Overcoming the Limits of Us-Them Politics

The expression "eastern religions" is frequently used to dismiss that which is seen as strange and less frequently to name that which is exotic and fascinating.  Many have seen the former Cold War and the present continuing struggle with a few Muslim-majority countries as a "clash of civilizations" between a Western and Eastern Bloc.  The famous work to deconstruct how Europe and the USA imagines the East is Edward Said's Orientalism.  Yet it is not just the Western hemisphere stereotyping the Eastern, as shown by various works Said inspired that study the Near Eastern and East Asian imaginaries about the Occident.  These important works have shown that stereotyping the other is not just an issue of individual ethics but has had powerful international consequences in the decision-making of national governments in foreign affairs.  A few positive responses to this tradition of othering can be found in 1) research that re-evaluates the religious and ethnic history of one's country in pluralistic terms, such as those that re-conceive American religious history as not new-comers that need to 'fit in' (e.g. Chinese, Levantine Muslims, South Asians) but can be themselves and still be (and have been) important contributors and participants of what it means to be American (Here I'm thinking of as examples GhaneaBassiri's recent History of Islam in America and Prema Kurien's A Place at the Multicultural Table on American Hinduism); 2) global studies that conceive of world histories as not a study of one's own civilization in competition with others but a history of humanity that critiques the important developments to human flourishing generated in the sundry parts of the planet that we can learn from and is part of our collective legacy - an approach I call "world citizen scholarship" (e.g. Marshall Hodgson's Rethinking World History and John Huddleston's Search for a Just Society); 3) philosophical reflections on how to enter into ethical and authentic relationships with the 'other' that is a true, egalitarian, meeting of souls in which one is neither extenguished in the other nor destroys the other in trying to make him/her as oneself (Martin Buber's I and Thou and Levinas's work set the standard of this genre).  Each of these approaches have much to offer if we are to overcome parochial, tribalistic, dichotomous thinking to universalistic and pluralistic kinds that empower us to learn from each other, fashion broader and deeper visions of life, construct national and global ethics and laws that guide and rule each nation and people without discrimination or exception, and cooperate to build societies with more equity, justice, freedom to realize human potentials, compassion, harmony, health, happiness, and holistic prosperity.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Humanistic Grammar of Virtues in the Academic Study of Religion

Right now, after reading Robert Orsi, Thomas Tweed, and Saba Mahmood I would conceive my project as looking into the dynamics of socially woven, fluid and embanked, personal relationships to dynamic presences experienced in/with the characteristics of virtue aesthetics (power, kindness, compassion, humility, modesty, equity, awe and wonderment, reliance, inter-dependence, self-transcendence, obedience, faithfulness, and holiness). The prism of virtue epistemology offers two significant features for research: 1) a language for identifying key features of how the religious talk about the goods they find in religious practices; and 2) it helps us to become more self-reflexive about the paradigms we are using to perceive, describe, interpret, and evaluate the objects of our inquiries and in turn broaden and deepen the values we hold dear in our secular-liberal project of the social sciences and humanities, …and, perhaps, engage deeper in the aesthetics of these virtues ourselves to be in turn – further transformed – by them; for, to be present in the world, means to be open and attentive to the possibilities of our work changing others just as much as those others can change us. To enter in an I-Thou relation means to be moved and carried by the dynamics of the engagement.
The language of virtues gives us a grammar to both describe the experiencing, doing, and consequences of religion, as well as to critically engage with our own categories used to conceive of our work without becoming beholden and constricted by any one. Thus, we will be able to conceive of a concern for power politics, manipulation, and coercion in our descriptions of the work of religion as much as a concern for human liberation and genuine acts of kindness and service to others. We will be able to see religious myths, doctrine, and ritual as much about a structuring and ordering of human actions in society as a capacity for positive change, transformation, and development.
The grammar of virtues takes on the insights of social sciences that contextualize notions of neutrality, objectivity, and detached inquiries with that of particular concerns and interests of the researcher (as articulated eloquently by Max Weber). It embeds the humanities once again in a humanistic tradition concerned with the advancement of human flourishing without asserting de facto the terms of that human flourishing; rather making a self-reflexive and conscientious contribution to that conversation. It embeds research in a compassionate engagement with the world in which, whether one is working on abstract algorithms for theoretical physics or the dynamics of community life in tenth-century Venice, in a world ravaged by issues of depression, suicide, war and bloodshed, poverty, famine, hunger, child abuse and domestic violence, political and corporate corruption, institutionalized prejudice and discrimination, one’s research can contribute to these concerns instead of stand back in an ivory tower to do research in the name of objective research – an action that virtue epistemology may name ethically irresponsible.
An ontology, aesthetics, and epistemology of virtues fuse ethics with action. With virtue denoting a power to do something (whether it is to think in a certain way, feel certain sentiments, or perform certain kinds of action) we can call a virtue a capability. Capabilities can be as specific as an ability to manage time in a day to complete each priority or to play moving music on an instrument, to as general as an ability to perform a kindness without thought to benefits of material or prestige for oneself, or to perceive with sympathetic concern the physical and emotional conditions of another person (compassion). My use of virtue will usually use capabilities in the latter, broader terms.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Daniel Azim Pschaida
PhD Candidate - 4th year
University of California Riverside
Department of Religious Studies

My research interests intersects areas of Religious Epistemology, Religious Pluralism, Religious Commitment and Conversion studies. I study these themes within the context of Islamic Studies, with comparative work in Christianity and other religions in the American context. I also try to contribute to Baha'i Studies. Central to my research questions is whether/how there can be a common framework for warrants of religious-belief commitments across religious traditions by which a person can be both a devoted practitioner of a faith (i.e. ultimate concern, world-view, metaphysical stance, e.g. Judaism, Buddhism, secular humanism) and also hold deep appreciation for the religious convictions of believers of other faith traditions. I believe pursuing these questions can strengthen inter-cultural cooperation and collective participation in grass-roots efforts towards creating communities of human flourishing.

This blog site is intended as a simple way, and central place, to share my research with anyone who is interested in similar topics, in a much more informal forum than scholarly journals. The research shared here represent diverse research papers I have produced for course-work during my Master's degree and PhD program that I have not yet pursued publishing in scholarly journals. They represent various stages and facets of my academic journey. The intention is that sharing this research might contribute in ways to your research and thinking, and that I - in turn - may receive your feedback and suggestions, and network and synthesize our minds together for greater perception and insight.