Course Syllabus

Islamic Religious Tradition

RELS 2303 section 001 (CRN 45164)
University of Oklahoma, College of Arts and Sciences
Fall 2021

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:00-4:15 in Adams 101 (100% in-person)

Syllabus and up-to-date schedule at


David Vishanoff
vishanoff at ou dot edu
(405) 325-1150
Robertson 119
Zoom room:
Office hours: Mondays 11:30-12:30 and Thursdays 4:30-5:30 (after class), or by appointment. I am usually free after class on Tuesdays as well, and you are welcome to walk back to my office with me and talk.

Class schedule

See the class schedule page. The schedule may be adjusted slightly as the term goes along; it will be kept up to date here in Canvas.


This course is an exercise in learning to listen to Muslims. Rather than present information and expect you to remember all the details, hoping that some of them will someday prove useful for understanding Muslims, we will read books by living Muslim authors and I will present whatever background material we need, as we go along, to understand what each author is saying on each page and why it matters. We will read two books together, with me providing commentary and background in class, and you will each choose one of three other books to read on your own, trying to make sense of it and discover why it matters in light of the background learned in class. There will be four tests, each with several multiple choice questions (just to make sure you are following) and one essay question asking you to start making sense of the extra book you are reading on your own. We will talk some about those extra books in class as well, so you will get to raise questions and hear about the interesting characters your classmates are studying. The three authors you will choose from all have strong personalities and edgy views about Islam; you may not always like them, but they won't be dull.

That's it! This is just an exercise in reading three books, with some guidance, and learning how to get past the obvious things they say and discover the puzzles, the surprises, and the fascinating controversies that make their interpretations of Islam anything but obvious. You will pick up plenty of basic facts and concepts along the way, but the point isn't to memorize them; the point is to practice reading things you don't know all the right background for and then fill in your knowledge gaps with just what you need to understand what that particular person is saying and why it matters. This is a course in which you learn to find people interesting.

This course counts toward General Education requirement IV-WDC (Humanities, World Culture).


There are two required books:

  • Martin Nguyen, Modern Muslim Theology: Toward a Life of Faithfulness and Engagement (ISBN 9781538115008)
  • Sherman A. Jackson, Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection (ISBN 9780199782383)

You will also choose one of these three:

  • Michael Muhammad Knight, Why I Am a Salafi (ISBN 9781593766061)
  • Ayesha S. Chaudhry, The Colour of God (ISBN 9781786079251)
  • Farid Esack, On Being a Muslim: Finding a Religious Path in the World Today (ISBN 9781851686919)

These books may be purchased at I encourage you to buy hard copies, not ebooks, so that you can flag things and write notes in the margins.


Quiz (10%)

One open-book and open-notes quiz early in the semester to get used to my questions, with multiple choice questions and a short essay question about your chosen book.

Two tests (20% each)

Multiple choice questions about recent material, and an essay question about your chosen book.

Final exam (40%)

A cumulative exam with multiple choice questions covering material from the whole semester, one essay question on Islam and the Blackamerican, and one essay question on your chosen book.

Attendance and participation (10%)

Ten percent of your grade will be based on your attendance and your productive contribution to the classroom dynamic (including being on time, bringing the assigned books to class, and occasionally participating in discussion in a way that shows you are up to date with the reading).

You may miss up to four classes (after the deadline for adding classes) without penalty, for any reason, excused or not. If a serious ongoing personal or health situation will result in four or more absences during the term, please do talk to me about it early on, and I will be as supportive as I can. Please steward your allowed absences carefully so that you will be able to isolate if required by OU's covid protocol; if that protocol requires you to miss more than four classes, documentation should be obtained from the student affairs office via OU's Healthy Together app. Absences that result from religious observances will be not be counted, and exams or work falling on religious holidays may be rescheduled without penalty; please let me know in advance, as soon as you are able to determine that a holiday may conflict with class.

Please note that I will usually take attendance just before class begins, so if you arrive after class has begun, you will be irrevocably recorded as absent unless you check in with me after class, in which case I will record you as merely late. Please don’t be embarrassed about doing this; I’m not offended by your lateness. Nevertheless, since arriving late can be distracting to other students, I may decide to count each lateness as a fraction of an absence if lateness becomes a recurring problem.

Academic honesty (all or nothing)

In my estimation, any form of deceit, however “mild,” warrants a final course grade of F (zero). Individual instances of suspected academic dishonesty will be referred to the appropriate University authorities, who will investigate and determine appropriate penalties (which may include grade penalties, extra classes, suspension, expulsion, and/or other penalties). In my estimation, academic dishonesty includes (but is not limited to) turning in writing not created by yourself solely for this class, plagiarism (reproducing or paraphrasing someone else’s words or ideas without citing them), helping other students to avoid doing their own reading or thinking or writing, sharing tests with others in or outside the class, and false excuses for absences or late or missed assignments. See for information on student rights and responsibilities with regards to academic misconduct.

Please note that tests and quizzes must be taken when scheduled unless prevented by religious observance or a documented health issue. If a make-up test is necessary, it may be in a different format, possibly an oral examination. No extra-credit work will be assigned or accepted; please do not ask. To benefit from this class, you need to do the work as it is assigned, not do other work later.

Campus resources and policies

  • Mental Health Support Services: If you are experiencing any mental health issues that are impacting your academic performance, counseling is available at the University Counseling Center (UCC). The Center is located on the second floor of the Goddard Health Center, at 620 Elm Rm. 201, Norman, OK 73019. To schedule an appointment call (405) 325-2911. For more information please visit
  • Any student who has a disability that may prevent him or her from fully demonstrating his or her abilities should contact me personally as soon as possible; I will be glad to make accommodations to help you and the whole class participate and learn more effectively. If you are unsure whether you should request some kind of accommodation, or what kind of accommodation might be most helpful for you, consult the staff at the Disability Resource Center who will be able to help figure out what is best and whether you should formally register with the Center (730 College Avenue, 325-3852, TDD 325-4173,
  • Title IX Resources and Reporting Requirement: For any concerns regarding gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, or stalking, the University offers a variety of resources. To learn more or to report an incident, please contact the Sexual Misconduct Office at 405/325-2215 (8 to 5, M-F) or Incidents can also be reported confidentially to OU Advocates at 405/615-0013 (phones are answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Also, please be advised that professors are required to report instances of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or discrimination to the Sexual Misconduct Office. Inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies can be directed to University Equal Opportunity Officer and Title IX Coordinator at 405/325-3546 or For more information, visit
  • Adjustments for Pregnancy/Childbirth Related Issues: Should you need modifications or adjustments to your course requirements because of documented pregnancy-related or childbirth-related issues, please contact me or the Disability Resource Center at 405/325-3852 as soon as possible. Also, see for answers to commonly asked questions.
  • Emergency Protocol: During an emergency, there are official university procedures that will maximize your safety. Severe Weather: If you receive an OU Alert to seek refuge or hear a tornado siren that signals severe weather 1. LOOK for severe weather refuge location maps located inside most OU buildings near the entrances 2. SEEK refuge inside a building. Do not leave one building to seek shelter in another building that you deem safer. If outside, get into the nearest building. 3. GO to the building’s severe weather refuge location. If you do not know where that is, go to the lowest level possible and seek refuge in an innermost room. Avoid outside doors and windows. 4. GET IN, GET DOWN, COVER UP. 5. WAIT for official notice to resume normal activities.
  • Armed Subject/Campus Intruder: If you receive an OU Alert to shelter-in-place due to an active shooter or armed intruder situation or you hear what you perceive to be gunshots: 1. GET OUT: If you believe you can get out of the area WITHOUT encountering the armed individual, move quickly towards the nearest building exit, move away from the building, and call 911. 2. HIDE OUT: If you cannot flee, move to an area that can be locked or barricaded, turn off lights, silence devices, spread out, and formulate a plan of attack if the shooter enters the room. 3. TAKE OUT: As a last resort fight to defend yourself. For more information, visit
  • Fire Alarm/General Emergency: If you receive an OU Alert that there is danger inside or near the building, or the fire alarm inside the building activates: 1. LEAVE the building. Do not use the elevators. 2. KNOW at least two building exits 3. ASSIST those that may need help. 4. PROCEED to the emergency assembly area. 5. ONCE safely outside, NOTIFY first responders of anyone that may still be inside building due to mobility issues. 6. WAIT for official notice before attempting to re-enter the building.