International Studies & Programs


MSU receives Templeton Religion Trust grant for Islamic architecture, science and interreligious relations project

James Madison College, International Studies and Programs, and the College of Arts and Letters collaborate to facilitate multi-faith engagement

Back to News

Published: Monday, 18 Apr 2022 Author: Veronica Gracia-Wing

Michigan State University has received a $228,000 grant from the Templeton Religion Trust to fund a multi-year, multi-national, multi-faceted research project on “Science, Art and Faith: Architectural Heritage and Islam.”

A mosque featuring pre-Islamic architectural forms such as old Javanese split doorways, ancient Hindu-Buddhist influenced Majapahit-style red brickwork, and a three-tired pyramidal roof.
Menara Kudus Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Indonesia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Led by Martha Olcott, James Madison College professor, and Mohammad H. Khalil, director of the Muslim Studies Program, with support from Salah Hassan, director of Global Studies in Arts and Humanities in the College of Arts & Letters, the project will reflect on the interreligious dimensions of Islamic architecture by exploring multi-faith contexts.

Funds from Templeton Religion Trust will facilitate partnerships with international specialists to examine the material legacy of Islamic architecture through existing structures as well as archaeological and textual sources.

“The scientific innovations of Muslim thinkers, which find expression in Islamic architecture, are the product of dynamic historical intercultural and interreligious relations,” said Khalil. “Studying these relations properly will require an interdisciplinary approach and a diverse team of contributors.”

“The scientific innovations of Muslim thinkers, which find expression in Islamic architecture, are the product of dynamic historical intercultural and interreligious relations.”
-Mohammad Khalil

Research will focus on the architectural heritage spanning Islam’s history in Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Morocco, Turkey and Uzbekistan. The project will encourage students and an informed public to explore their own religious history in new ways, as well as influence how the next generation of scholars are trained to incorporate these ideas in their future work. In addition, a special topics course (GSAH 391) based on research related to the project will be offered in fall 2022 by the Global Studies in the Arts and Humanities Program. 

“Mohammad, Salah and I are thrilled by the support from the Templeton Religion Trust. These funds allow us to work with a tremendous team of international scholars of architecture, art, religion and philosophy,” said Olcott.

As part of the project, MSU will host world-renowned scholar Bernard O'Kane, professor of Islamic art and architecture at The American University in Cairo the week of April 18 for several events. 

O’Kane will provide a lecture at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn on April 19, a public lecture titled “The Triumph of Color: Islamic Architecture in Iran” for the MSU Muslim Studies Program on April 20, and conclude his visit on April 21 with a public lecture on “The Mosques of Egypt” at the Islamic Center of East Lansing.

“I am very much looking forward to the body of work that comes from this project,” said Cameron Thies, James Madison College dean and MSU Foundation Professor. “Having MSU scholars collaborate with international partners devoted to unpacking Islamic theology and scientific innovations through architecture will provide greater perspective and appreciation for the culture communities of faith have offered historically and their influence on the art world today.”

“Science, Art and Faith: Architectural Heritage and Islam” will lead to an enhanced and open arena for multi-faith engagement through the appreciation of the multiple roles played by members of different faith communities in the creation and preservation of Islamic religious architecture. 

“Our first international event will be in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in May, with planned travel to Egypt and Indonesia later this year and reciprocal visits by scholars from these countries to MSU,” Olcott said. “We also expect Javlon Vakhabov, Uzbekistan’s Ambassador to the U.S., to visit campus in September, timed to coincide with our hosting of Uzbek scholars.”

For additional information, contact Martha Olcott or Mohammad Khalil.

The Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt, features ancient architecture styles and decorations created from carved stucco and wood. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

About Templeton Religion Trust

Templeton Religion Trust is a global charitable trust chartered by Sir John Templeton in 1984 with headquarters in Nassau, The Bahamas. TRT has been active since 2012 and supports projects as well as storytelling related to projects seeking to enrich the conversation about religion.