Attendees at the conference, “Translating Islam” on October 7. Photo by Julie Maxwell

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill held a conference in honor of Carl Ernst’s contributions to Islamic Studies on Oct. 6-7, 2017. Ernst is William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations (CCSMEMC), and he has devoted his academic life to translating Islam, linguistically and culturally. From his first book, Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (1985), to his forthcoming book, co-edited with Fabrizio Speziale, Perso-Indica: An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions, Ernst has focused on how Islamic concepts have traveled across time and space.
The two-day conference, organized around themes in Islamic studies that Ernst’s work has addressed, evoked and expanded on the major contributions of this creative translator of texts, ideas and traditions within the sphere of Islam. Current and former colleagues of Ernst’s, as well as his former graduate students who are now scholars of their own accord, gathered from across the country to speak on broad aspects of Islamic studies in panels and roundtable discussions.
“It was heartwarming to see so many former students and colleagues, from around the U.S. and from outside the U.S., gather to honor our friend Carl Ernst,” said Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology and co-director of the center.


Carl Ernst concludes the conference with final remarks. Photo by Julie Maxwell.

The conference opened on Friday, Oct. 6 with remarks by Bruce Lawrence, Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor of Religion at Duke University, on Ernst’s work in building the field of Islamic studies. The remarks were followed by panels on Islam, Indo-Muslim Ventures and Translation Issues, as well as a reflection by James Peacock, professor emeritus of anthropology at UNC, on Ernst’s contributions to international studies at Carolina.
Friday evening ended with a concert of classical Persian music at UNC’s Stone Center, held in collaboration with the Iranian Cultural Society of North Carolina. The concert included acclaimed musicians Hossein Behroozinia, Saeed Farajpoori, Behnam Samani and Hamid Behrouzinia, accompanied by vocalist Sepideh Raissadat. They offered a repertoire of classical Iranian music, featuring romantic, joyous pieces with lyrics from the vast treasury of classical Persian poetry.
Cemalnur Sargut, president of the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association, opened the discussion on Saturday, Oct. 7 with remarks on her work with Ernst. A roundtable discussion on the future of Islamic Studies followed, led by Ahmet Karamustafa, professor and director of graduate studies in the history department at the University of Maryland. The conference concluded with a response and final remarks from Ernst.
A celebration of Ernst’s essential contributions to religious and international studies, the conference ignited conversations that will continue to influence these fields for years to come.
This event was sponsored by the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, Department of Religious Studies, Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, College of Arts & Sciences and Institute of Arts & Humanities, with support from the Chancellor’s Global Education Fund.
By Anum Imran ’21

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