Spring 2021 Anschutz Lecture explores ‘soul work’ of ethnic studies

Written by
Sarah Malone, Program in American Studies
April 27, 2021

On April 5, 2021, Sylvia Chan-Malik, the Spring 2021 Anschutz Distinguished Fellow in American Studies, delivered a wide-ranging lecture, “Sacred Struggles: Race, Religion, and the Soul of Ethnic Studies,” tracing the history of ethnic studies as an academic discipline, her nearly 30-year engagement with it — as student, teacher, scholar, and activist — and her and the discipline’s relations with religious tradition and practice.

“In many ways I have been thinking, reflecting and composing this lecture and the book it informs for almost 30 years,” Chan-Malik said.

Chan-Malik noted that in particular “after I began my research on Islam and Muslims in the U.S. and Black Muslim women, I have continually encountered a deeply ingrained aversion to religion as both a category of analysis and a catalyst for social change within ethnic studies scholarship, pedagogy and practices.”

Yet, she said, “while it may not have been called religion, attentiveness to the sacred and the tending of our souls has always, from the days of the [Third World Liberation Front] to the present, run through the project of ethnic studies.”

“What brought me [to] and keeps me in ethnic studies,” Chan-Malik said, “is that feeling in the room with my students, my peers, interlocutors, knowing that we are involved in struggling; that sacred feeling in our souls, in community, together in a room. This is what holds us, sustains us and nourishes us.”

The Spring 2021 Anschutz Lecture was held via Zoom at 4:30 p.m., presented by the Program in American Studies. The Department of Religion, Center for the Study of Religion, and Muslim Life Program cosponsored. Program in American Studies Associate Director Patricia Fernández-Kelly, professor of sociology, introduced Chan-Malik and moderated conversation with the audience.