An Illuminating Discussion with Patrick Bowen about his new Work, A history of Conversion to Islam in the United States
Why did you write this book? What was your original inspiration?
It’s somewhat of a winding story, but I think it may be instructive for current or prospective grad students. When I first went to graduate school in 2007, I wanted to research Islam in America and, following the advice of my advisors, I sought out a research topic that very few scholars had already looked at. After about six months pursuing a topic that didn’t appeal to me very much, I decided to switch to American conversion to Islam after 9/11, which at the time had received almost no academic attention. I did a small-scale, local study on the topic for my MA thesis, but when I attempted to do a large-scale, national study for my PhD dissertation, I was not able to cultivate a good network of potential respondents. As a result, after having contacted over 600 Muslim organizations, I was only able to obtain fifteen total interviews and/or surveys—just two more than I had obtained in the small-scale study. I felt this wasn’t enough data for a dissertation, so I decided to turn my attention to a related topic that had similarly received very little attention from scholars: the history of white and Latino converts to Islam in the US.
Since so little had been written about white and Latino Muslims, I had to begin my research by collecting any references I could find in the existing literature on Muslims in America. It turned out that the most enticing leads were in books written about African American Muslims. After collecting all the published material I could, I decided that the best way to find more information was to dig deeper into the history of African American Islam with the hope that I’d be able to trace the known leads further and possibly make some new discoveries. What I soon learned, though, was that much of what I was finding concerning African American Islamic history—most of which had nothing to do with white and Latino converts—had not been discussed in great detail in the literature, and that these findings were going to require their own analyses. Since at that time I was also reading several classic multivolume studies and series of thematically-similar books—most notably Hodgson’s Venture of Islam, Gay’s The Enlightenment, Foucault’s work, and Deleuze and Guattari’s books—I felt inspired to bring all my research together as its own multivolume study. After finding an enthusiastic publisher, I’ve been able to bring this vision to fruition, and the present book is the second out of three planned volumes in the series that I’ve named A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States.