Syed Rizwan Zamir Associate Professor of Religious Studies
- Ph.D. University of Virginia (Advisors: Prof. Sachedina & Prof. Ochs)
- B.A. James Madison University (Advisor: Prof. Daniel Flage)
- B.A. University of Punjab
Areas of Expertise
- Shi’i Islam
- Islam in South Asia
- Islamic thought, ethics, and spirituality
- Islam and modernity
I grew up in Pakistan and still find my roots in its religious and civilizational heritage. This heritage continues to shape my intellectual trajectory and constitutes an abiding strand of my teaching and scholarly pursuits. Lately, I joined the core-faculty of the South Asian studies program and contribute to it one course every academic year.
Professing at a liberal arts college and grappling with humanities (and by extension with what does it mean to be human?) and aspects of Davidson College's mission statement have led me on a path of rethinking study of Islam and religion and pertinence of religious studies to the College's mission, to humanities, the academy and wider society.
Parallel to this path has been another, of exploring relations between religious communities and traditions, especially between Christianity and Islam which I have explored with my colleagues quite regularly in recent years through courses like Catholicism and Shi'ism, The Bible and the Qur'an, and Jesus and Muhammad. I am also invested in exploring ways in which religious traditions speak to (and converge/diverge on) questions and concerns of perennial significance and value for the human community.
Once faculty advisor to Muslim Students Association (MSA) at the College, I have led informal reading circles with Davidson students and was also a liaise on coach-organizer of Davidson students' unofficial cricket club.
And once upon a time, I was an accountant in Islamabad.
My recent writings include a journal article "Oral and Written Shī‘ī Qur’ānic Elucidations in Twentieth-Century Indian Subcontinent" (Islamic Studies, 2023), three book chapters, "Does Worshipping God have Ethical Implications?", "A Manual for Living Together," and "A Contemporary Retelling of the Story of Islamic Narrative Ethics" for the Bloomsbury Handbook of Islamic Ethics ed. Jafar Mahallati (forthcoming, 2024), a book chapter "Mockery in Panjabi Sufi Poetry" in Mysticism and Ethics in Islam (2022) eds. Orfali, Khalil and Rustom, and a two-part scholarly essay "A Contemporary Retelling of Islam’s Sacred Story" (2020) for an online journal Al-Sidrah.
I have been writing two books. The first titled Guarding Religion in Modernity is a comprehensive revision of my dissertation and studies the religious thought of the foremost Indian Shi'i intellectual, scholar, teacher and preacher of the twentieth century, Sayyid 'Ali Naqi al-Naqvi (d. 1988). The second is intended as an undergraduate textbook which offers an overview of Islamic ethical thought and practice.
I was co-chair of the Islam Section of the southeast region of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and on the steering committee of the AAR unit 'Sacred Texts and Ethics'. I was a board member of the Southeast Regional Middle East and Islamic Studies Seminar (SERMEISS), the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics (SSME) and the southeast region of the AAR, of which I was also the president in 2020-21. I am on the international advisory board of journals Islamic Studies and Bayan al-Hikma. From time to time, I also advise Lahore-based Hast-o-Neest Institute of Traditional Studies and Arts.
My Islamic studies courses range from general overviews of Islamic life and thought to specialized topics such as Islamic theology, Sufi and Shi'i mystical thought and practice, encounters of Islamic civilization with western modernity, Muslim civilization and culture in the era of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires, Islamic understanding of the end, Islamic literary texts and traditions (especially storytelling and poetry), comparative study of Sunni and Shiite traditions, proposals for a good human life within Islamic intellectual tradition, Islamic views of the cosmos and humans' place in it, and expressions of Muslim nostalgia for Islamic heritage in contemporary times.
My religious studies courses include explorations of technology and religion, comparative religious art, Christian-Muslim relations in history and thematic comparisons between the two traditions, and a meta-view of the academic discipline of religious studies (i.e., its history, approaches and limitations). Lately, I have been exploring the boundaries, overlaps and divergences between myth and history, and between religion, uncanny and the occult. Though not my expertise, in coming years I seek to explore forgotten, hidden or ignored religious traditions and phenomena, such as Native American tradition(s), Sikhism, Ismailism, Christians of the Muslim world, and New Age spirituality and the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious movement.
I have also conducted independent studies on the themes of C.S. Lewis, Pakistan, God & Grief, and Readings in Abrahamic Theology. I was part of the faculty-team for the humanities program of 2017-2018 and have recently for the first time led a Writing course "Why Write, Why Share?"
- Davidson's Humanities Program (2017-2018), "Connections and Conflicts/Revolution"
- Why Write? Why Share? (For the Writing Program)
- Readings in Abrahamic Theology (Independent Study)
- God & Grief (Independent Study)
- Pakistan (Independent Study)
- C.S. Lewis (Independent Study)
- Journeying through the World of Islam
- From Taliban to Taj Mahal (& Back)
- Designing Life in the Middle Ages (with Prof. Kabala)
- Jesus & Muhammad (with Prof. Foley)
- Catholicism and Shi'i Islam (with Prof. Lustig)
- The Bible and the Qur'an (with Prof. Snyder)
- Nature & Ecology in Islam
- What is a Good Life?
- Aliens, Strangers, and Zombies (with Prof. Foley)
- Muslim-Americans (with Prof. Wills)
- Art, Media, Technology and Religion (Seminar)
- Empires & Cities
- Academic Study of Religion
- Nostalgic Islam: Vestiges of Muslim Memory and Heritage
- Islam in the Modern Age: Tradition, Fundamentalism, and Reform
- The End. (previously called Islamic Eschatology)
- Literary Classics of the Muslim World (Seminar)
- Sunni and Shi'ite Islam
- Sufism/Islamic Mysticism
- Islamic Ethics
- Introduction to Islam