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Liberal Studies

for the 21st Century

E-Series Faculty Profile: Dr. Adam Gaiser

Adam is an associate professor in the Department of Religion. His research interests are concerned with early Islamic history, with a focus on the early sectarian groups of Muslims. He is a historian of religion, and a specialist on Oman and North Africa from roughly the eighth through the twelfth centuries.

E-Series Course:

  • IDS2420, Heretics, Rebels and Militants in the Islamic World

1. Please tell us about yourself.
I’m an associate professor in the Department of Religion. This year (2017), I will enter my twelfth year at FSU. I and graduated from the University of Virginia in 2005 with a PhD in comparative religion (focusing on Islamic studies), and came to FSU after teaching one year as a visiting assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross.

2. Tell us about your research interests and why you are passionate about this topic.
My field of research is early Islamic history, with a focus on the early sectarian groups of Muslims known collectively as the Khārijites, and even more specifically on their sole-surviving offshoot, the Ibāḍiyya. Although I do entertain a variety of other interests as well, I am at heart a historian of religion, and a specialist on Oman and North Africa from roughly the eighth through the twelfth centuries. I’m currently writing an introductory book on Muslim sectarianism (so called). I got interested in this topic by combining my love for comparative religion with my interest in the Arabic language. But at heart what continues to drive my passion for this topic is what drives most historians: an interest in human beings. Studying Islam and Muslims is just another way to study people and ask some of the basic questions: why do we act the way we do? What drives us? What factors shape and mold us?

3. What do you want the public to know about your research? Why is your topic important?
There is so much that “the public” needs to know about Islam and Muslims that it’s hard to know where to start. The real problem is clearing away what a person thinks they know about the topic. The misperceptions and illusions have become widespread, popular, and continually reinforced. My students generally know on some level that a large amount of what they’ve heard or read about Islam and Muslims is hogwash, and that is why they come to my class. They also know that misperceptions and illusions are dangerous to our democracy and security alike (knowing our enemy means knowing the difference between them and our friends). So I think that my topic – and class – is important in how it helps to clear away the dross so that we can appreciate Muslims as people. Good, bad, sometimes sublime, sometimes ugly… people – just like us.

4. Who has influenced you the most in life?
I have had the good fortune that have had friends and mentors. One in particular – he’s a very private person, so he will remain unnamed – taught me a good portion of whatever I can say that I know. He taught me that teaching is not simply passing on information, but conveying the spirit of inquiry, all of which begins with a love for one’s fellow human beings. He showed me that to really understand someone, anyone – whether they be a Muslim living in 8th century Basra, or a school teacher in California – you have to see them as a person. He also showed me that actual scholarly inquiry requires work and discipline – which goes a long way toward explaining why much of what is said today about Islam and Muslims remains utterly worthless: it required no effort, and demanded no discipline.

5. What is your favorite part of your job?
I love being in a classroom with students. Think about it: I get to spend my time with eager, intelligent young people who want to engage with me about what I like to do. This is hands down the best part of the “job.”

6. What E-Series course do you teach and what is it about?
I teach IDS2420, Heretics, Rebels and Militants in the Islamic World. The title is perhaps a bit deceptive, because the class is about Muslim sectarian groups, medieval to present, many of whom regarded each other as heretics, rebels and (using today’s terminology) militants. We begin with the five main politico-religious divisions among Muslims: Sunnis and Shi’a (most people know about these groups), but also the more obscure Kharijites, Murji’ites and Mu’tazilites. From there we work toward the modern period, ending with an examination of some of the more well-known of today’s militant Muslim sub-divisions: al-Qa’ida, ISIS, Hizbullah and others. But as I said earlier – the class is “about” people, and why they might do the things that they do.

7. How do you like to spend your free time?
I play legos with my 5-year-old daughter. I’m also a hopelessly addicted stamp collector. I enjoy reading books that have nothing to do with Islamic studies: science fiction, Dostoevsky, Name of the Wind… you get the idea.

8. What did we naively not ask you that we should’ve, and your answer to it?
Why do I think that Spain is the most civilized country on earth? OK. I’ll tell you. There are many reasons, most of them having to do with the amazing cuisine, and the nap in the afternoon. But there’s also the 800 or so years of Muslim rule that left very interesting traces on Spanish culture(s), the football (that’s soccer to most of you), public spaces (Cuitadella park in Barcelona, or Gulliver in Valencia), the many fiestas, the regional varieties of Spanish culture... but actually it’s the food and the siesta. Gazpacho, mejillones en escabeche, carne asada, patxaran, … and then a nap!

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