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Paul Hockenos has a fine article in The Chronicle of Higher Education detailing plans by the German government to establish institutes for the study of Islamic theology.

In Germany, the universites have faculties of Protestant and Catholic theology responsible not only for academic study but also for training pastors and priests. This close relation between church and state makes a decision about Islam inevitable. At 5 percent of the population it seems politically natural—although culturally controversial—for the German government to intergrate Islamic theology into its state sponsored academic system.

The responses of the Islamic leaders interviewed by the story includes voices worrying about the ways in which the essentially secular project of the German educational establishment might co-opt the religious authority of Islamic teaching. It’s a legitimate worry, one that many Christians have expressed over the years.

In the main, the German effort is for the best. Islamic thought is likely to find a constructive role in European societies and cultures insofar as Islamic intellectual leaders grapple with some of the same questions as their Christian counterparts.

As an American, of course, I cringe at the thought of state funded (and controlled!) theological faculties, Islamic or otherwise. But the German educational system is state dominated, so it requires state-sponsored initiatives such as the new institutes.

Here in the U.S., Islamic seminaries are emerging that will, I hope, achieve something of what is sought by the Germans, and will do so without governmental entanglements. For example, Zaytuna Institue, now Zaytuna College , has established an academic presence in Berkeley, California under the leadership of Hamza Yusuf. I’ve read some of Hamza Yusuf’s essays in the Zaytuna journal, Seasons , which I recommend.

His work strikes me as Islamic post-liberalism, by which I mean an approach sensitive to the challenges of modernity, but determined to find answers within the tradition. Well worth reading.

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