Alumna Shaireen Rasheed Explores Sexuality, Islam and the War on Terror in Current Work

By Tim Ignaffo

Shaireen Rasheed is a Professor at LIU-Post and has been a visiting scholar for the 2014-2015 academic year at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School.

Shaireen Rasheed is a Professor at LIU-Post and has been a visiting scholar for the 2014-2015 academic year at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School.

Shaireen Rasheed is a Professor at LIU-Post and has been a visiting scholar for the 2014-2015 academic year at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School, where she is working on her second book which explores the ethical concept of Sexuality, Islam and the War on Terror from a phenomenological framework. Her first book, an Existentialist Curriculum of Action was published in 2007 and her work has been featured in numerous scholastic journals such as Education Theory, the Journal of Human Rights, and Social Philosophy Today.

Since the last time we spoke to you a lot has happened. You are now a full Professor at CW Post – LIU and last year you were a visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School. Tell us about this experience and your journey.

I came to the Center for the Study of World Religions as a 2014–15 visiting scholar on my sabbatical to finish a manuscript on “Sexuality, Islam, and the War on Terror.” My research has three related trajectories: sexuality, Islam, and the war on terror; counter radicalization initiatives on the war on terror globally and in the U.S.; and intercultural religious pedagogy curriculum that help us further understand Islam within a pluralistic, K-12 framework.

The CSWR and HDS have both served as an extremely fertile intellectual space to ground my work on Islam and politics and to facilitate the bridge between religion and politics within the current landscape. Being part of the School’s and the CSWR’s nurturing and intellectual community has helped me articulate these issues better and has informed my own research tremendously.

You worked with the legendary Maxine Greene who passed away last year. What did she mean to you, to your work, and to the field (do you want to talk about her legacy at all)?

I had the chance of working with her and being able to write my book on her work. As part of a panel at TC she responded to my research which was fabulous. Her work was very influential to me in that given my background in Philosophy  (B.A SUNY Stony Brook and M.A New School for Social Research) she taught me to connect to to more pragmatic questions on liberal education. I was using my philosophical theories in a new way as I was using the sense of my training in philosophy to engage with hard pressing questions about the role of teaching and the engaged learner. Existentialist questions regarding responsibility, angst, the role of the imagination and the freedom to choose took on a whole new meaning within this new context.

My students engage in this form of thinking as I embody the existentialist pedagogy in all my classes. And my students are always questioning, pushing the envelope and critically analyzing their transformative role as educators in a test driven climate. Having had the good fortune to have also worked with Nel Noddings who was also on my dissertation committee I try to emulate the characteristics of her concept of caring in the classroom.

Also collaborating with David Hansen has really influenced the way I teach diversity. I use the sense of cosmopolitanism to discuss the role of the teacher in the current changing world. I collaborated on a panel with him, and other TC alumni at PES in April this year discussing the various role of Cosmopolitanism within a global context. I have several of my former and current doctoral students working on Maxine’s, Nodding’s and Hansen’s work.

What was your experience before becoming a PhD student? Why did you choose Philosophy of Education?

I was always a philosophy buff and had written extensively on Heidegger, Hegel, Buber and schooled in the continental tradition. I was lucky enough to have some great professors serve as my mentors including David Allison (Nietzsche scholar at SUNY STONY brook), Seyla Benhabib (at the New School) and Richard Bernstein and Agnes Heller (New School).

After my Masters I took break from academia and in an attempt to implement my philosophical training work as a social worker in the capacity of an educational mentor to foster kids in Bedford Stuyvvasunt in Brooklyn for two years. It is there that I truly learnt the importance of imparting philosophical concepts to students in an attempt to have them become successful learners, problem solvers and reflective individuals. I started exploring doctoral  programs in Philosophy that were contextualized in educational pedagogy. I got into several programs and while I was waiting to hear from TC I took a course co-taught with Rene Arcilla (who would go on to become my advisor and a dear colleague) and Maxine Greene titled “Literature and Education” (I think). Well that course reinforced what I was struggling with in Philosophy. By emphasizing the connectedness of Philosophy to other disciplines it made me want to further explore the practical virtues of my training in the tradition.

When did you decide you wanted to be a Professor? What do you enjoy most about being a Professor?

I always had a passion for philosophical ideas and the imparting of those ideas so knew rather early in my life that combining the two would be a dream job for me. Hence teaching I guess. There are so many aspects about being a professor I absolutely love but in the interest of time I will talk about my most enjoyable ones.

I love teaching undergraduates as they still have the spark and the fire in them abut wanting to change the world. And igniting that fire where they see themselves as active change agents in a democratic society. The wonder, the enthusiasm and the fresh outlook they bring to the subject of philosophy is refreshing if not humbling at times! When I began my journey as a teacher prior to tenure at Post my goals were what they are today-namely to teach my students the pedagogy of transformative learning.  What has changed in my journey as a teacher is that I am less shy of taking risks and more open to being self reflective about my own teaching

The last chapter of my book, “An existentialist curriculum of action,” offers practical advice on how to implement theoretical philosophical concepts in the classrooms. The chapter and the practical examples of classroom exercises were formulated as a result of teaching philosophical concepts to my LIU Post students. I also presented a paper on a similar topic at the Society for Phenomenological and Humanistic Sciences in 2009 titled, “Creating transcending pedagogies in the classroom.”

What is your primary research focus right now? What excites you about the field of education in our time? What concerns you?

My primary focus right now is on diversity in the classroom and including inclusive pedagogies in the classroom. The research ranges from working with teachers, administrators and Higher education faculty to conduct professional development workshops. Through an NEH and a NY Council for the Arts grant my colleagues and I held a series of work of workshops and talks on Cultural Sensitivity to students of Muslim backgrounds in K-12 schools. Our demographics are changing very rapidly and the school climate needs to reflect these changes. The response from neighboring districts has been tremendous as everyone is committed to creating an inclusive climate. Antihero aspect of my work is my collaboration with the Religion Literacy project at Harvard.

I was invited to conduct several Professional Development workshops for the district on “Integrating Difference and cultural sensitivity in the classroom,” these were especially important for students of Middle East descent because, studies show they have been the most recent victims of bullying, racism and targeted xenophobia.”

The millennials I think are a generation of open minded, curious and politically engaged generation. I think as educators and faculty in higher education our job is to facilitate their journey so that they can be productive citizens. We need for them to see the connections with other countries and become global individuals and activists. Whether it is about issues of diversity, sexuality, poverty and discrimination in all its forms. I hope to help students articulate these issues and create effective policies to implement change from where ever they are capable of. I had taught a course on Sustainability and results of what the students implemented in their own classrooms as a result were remarkable. My doctoral students are doing amazing and often transformative work in tackling some of these issues in their dissertations.

The challenges are that we are entrenched in high stake testing and are trying to tach authentically in an assessment laden environment. We have to continue to create those existential spaces that are conducive to creating reflective and life long learners.