Islam in the Columbia Curriculum, 1886-2012: From Oriental Languages to Area Studies and Religious Studies

The one-day conference was held on Thursday, 31 January 2013, in the Faculty House of Columbia University, 400 West 117th Street, New York, N. Y. 10027.  It explored the history of Islamic Studies in North America in general, and at Columbia University in particular.  Its starting point was the observation that Islamic Studies slipped into the Columbia curriculum when in the late 1880s Oriental languages were first added to the fledgling university’s course offerings.


9:00 am – Opening Remarks
Robert E. Pollack (Columbia University): Welcome
Dagmar A. Riedel (Columbia University): Introduction
Lila Abu-Lughod (Columbia University): Emergent Thinking about Islamic Studies at Columbia

9.30 am – Oriental Studies and Islamwissenschaft, 1886-1969
Chair: Robert A. McCaughey (Barnard College)
Trudy S. Kawami (Arthur M. Sackler Foundation): In Its Own World: Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archeology at Columbia 
Dagmar A. Riedel (Columbia University): Oriental Languages in America of the Gilded Age: Richard Gottheil and A. V. Williams Jackson
Patrick J. Ryan, SJ (Fordham University): Arthur Jeffery and Missionary Islamic Studies
David S. Powers (Cornell University): Joseph Schacht and the Study of Hadith

noon – Lunch

1.30 pm – Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies since 1945
Chair: Timothy P. Mitchell (Columbia University)
Richard W. Bulliet (Columbia University): Islam and Area Studies
Edward E. Curtis IV (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis): The Study/Ghettoization of African-American Islam
Carl W. Ernst (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill): Persianate Islamic Studies in the U.S.
David M. Freidenreich (Colby College): Islamic Studies and Jewish Studies: Differences in Context

3.30 pm – Coffee

4.00 pm – Islamic and Global Studies in the Twenty-First Century: A Roundtable
Chair: David Johnston (Columbia University)
Amir Hussain (Loyola Marymount University)
Jerusha T. Lamptey (Union Theological Seminary)
Elias D. Mallon (Catholic Near East Welfare Association)
Burton L. Visotzky (Jewish Theological Seminary)

6.15 pm – Reception
Hosted by the Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Columbia University, Butler Library,
6th Floor East, 535 West 114th Street, New York, N. Y. 10027.

The conference was sponsored by
the Columbia University Seminar on Religion and Writing,
the American Institute of Iranian Studies, and
the Friends of the Columbia Libraries.

The conference was open to the public, but we requested registration, as seating was limited, with a RSVP to: [email protected].
(NB – The email address was disabled on 4 February 2013.)

The conference accompanied a brick-and-mortar exhibition in honor of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Gottheil (1862-1936) and A. V. Williams Jackson (1862-1937). The exhibition showcased books and ephemera in Arabic, Armenian, Avestan, Persian, Sanskrit, Sumerian, and Turkish, exploring the interdependence between the development of library resources and the establishment of Columbia’s first Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies programs.  Since RBML broke its original commitment to preserving the brick-and-mortar exhibition in a digital version, important documents (e.g., the 2010 proposal and captions for all items on display) are now available in Columbia’s Academic Commons (













Dagmar A. Riedel
Columbia University
Center for Iranian Studies
dar2111 [at]

Hannah K. Barker
Columbia University
Department of History
hkb2106 [at]

First published, 8 September 2012
Last updated, 13 January 2022