The Postgraduate Islamic Studies Network was launched on Wednesday 8 August at Western Sydney University, Bankstown campus by Pro-Vice Chancellor Research and Graduate Studies, Professor James Arvanitakis bringing together more than 60 inter-institutional and inter-disciplinary academics and students.

The network is led by Dr Jan Ali, Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Dr Rakime Elmir, Lecturer and Deptuty Director Clinical Education Midwifery in School of Nursing and Midwifery. 

The launch included the keynote address by Dr Jan Ali who elaborated on Islam as a religion and its practice in various disciplines of human activity as well as defined the area of Islamic Studies as an academic discipline.
The launch was followed by a lively discussion amongst the diverse group of attendees that included academics, students, community members Muslims as well as people of other faiths and no faith.
The objectives of the Postgraduate Islamic Studies Network is to form inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional collaborations and networking opportunities among academics and students interested in Islamic related agenda and research projects.

Postgraduate Islamic Studies Network established in the Graduate School forms a vehicle to bring students and academics from all schools at Western Sydney University and from other Australian universities working on Islamic and Muslim-focused research projects together for the purpose of exchanging ideas, networking, creating opportunities for collaboration, and developing mutually beneficial relationships.

Background to the initiative of establishing the Postgraduate Islamic Studies Network

Islamic studies outside Islamicate is generally referred to as the historical and theological study of Islam. Islamic studies itself is in many respects a self-contained field with scholars from diverse disciplines engage in the examination of Muslim societies and Islamic religious system.

Academics in the discipline apply methods adapted from several related fields, ranging from classical philology to modern history, cultural studies, anthropology, and sociology.

In recent years, particularly since the events of 9/11, new research and academic interests in social sciences have emerged focusing on the study of political Islam and existential Islam more broadly.

In Australia in the wake of the events of 9/11 and subsequent bombings in Bali, Madrid, and London, Islamic Studies as an academic discipline has picked up increased momentum and has become popular and a  fast-growing field of exploration and research in many universities across the country.

The university degrees and courses in Islamic Studies offer a social scientific study of the religion of Islam as well as of its adherents. Research into the recent development of Islamic Studies in Australian universities has shown that the University of Western Sydney has Australia’s largest Muslim student population at its Bankstown campus (White 2007).

This area is surrounded by suburbs with the highest concentration of Muslim population in Australia (Wise and Ali 2008). Muslims are also one of the fastest growing populations in Australia and their level of educational attainment compares positively with the total Australian population.

The research shows that Muslims are more likely to completed Year 12 schooling and men to be more likely to complete a bachelor degree or postgraduate degree (Hassan 2015).

Shahram Akbarzadeh and his colleagues note that “Studies of Islam and Muslim societies constitute a relatively new, but growing, field of research in Australia” (2004: 3).

Therefore, a growing trend in research activity and a heightened interest in various aspects of Islam, particularly its socio-cultural and political role in a globalised world are penetrating academia with great force.

The growing effects of globalisation and a post-9/11 world order have important ramifications for Muslim residents in Australia, and understanding this is critical.

Issues relating to Muslim citizenship in relation to their ability to access the labour market and participate fully in civic life, as well as the growth of the phenomenon of Islamic revivalism and its impact on governance in numerous Muslim states are also important considerations in better understanding the role of Islam today.

How this can be made possible is through academic research and a formal and comprehensive Islamic Studies programme.

Islamic Studies is not about the study of the religion alone, but also about its adherents. Islamic Studies in universities involves a social scientific exploration of the ways in which Muslims describe and pursue their everyday religious life.

Since Islam is being interpreted and practised by its followers in a variety of ways, understanding this dimension of Muslim everyday living is critical, particularly through higher learning, which is made possible in universities.