Bruce Bennet Lawrence

“All my professional life”, Dr. Bruce Bennett Lawrence says, “I have been involved in trying to make religion, in general, and Islam, in particular, more accessible to multiple audiences outside the academy.”

Dr. Bruce Bennett Lawrence, Duke University’s Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities professor of religion, professor of Islamic studies, and inaugural director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, has devoted his entire life to scholarly work on Islam and the Muslim society with disciplinary synergies in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Law, and Theology. His monographs, like Islamic civilization and Muslim networks, and research collaboration, like Rethinking Islamic studies: from orientalism to cosmopolitanism, are outstanding examples of scholarly rigor and methodological innovation combined with a theoretical inside that has shaped the study of religion, in general, and Islamic studies, in particular. 

Early life

Dr. Lawrence was born on 14th August, 1941, in Newton, New Jersey, USA. He is an ethnic German. His father, Joseph Stagg Lawrence, had migrated from Hungary to the US in 1902 and overcame many obstacles to become the first in his family to attend college. Professor Lawrence described his father as “one of the fiercest and most intellectually engaged of the critics of Keynesian economics”. His father passed away when he was only 54. 


He started his education at a junior boarding school named: the fay school and then to Phillips Exeter Academy, where he opted to study Middle Eastern history: a complex pivotal region of the world. He took up a challenge to write a one-page essay on why “there is no God” the essay made him eligible to enroll in a religion course designed for the students who looked askance at religion as “transcendental gobbledygook”.

Carrying over an earlier interest from Exeter academy, he began studying Arabic and took a course on Islamic philosophy with Dr. James kritzeck: an assistant professor at the Department of Oriental studies. In his undergraduate school at Princeton University, Dr. Lawrence recalls James Kritzeck as “a truly inspiring teacher and mentor”. He studied for a master’s degree at Episcopal divinity school. Three years later, he was the reverend Bruce Lawrence. But he decided to continue his passion, which was built at Princeton, rather than becoming a parish priest.

He studied at Yale for his doctorate in the history of religions: Islam and Hinduism from 1967 to 1972. Dr. Lawrence himself described, “I was trained to engage the large swath of Asia known as West Asia and South Asia, with particular reference to the cultures and languages, the history and religious practices marked as Muslims.” He added more, as he also pursued the study of non-Muslim traditions in Asia, especially Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. He explored the “turbulent reconnections of Europe to Asia” that were forged in colonial and post-colonial encounters.

Language skills

Dr. Lawrence has added fluency in one language after another. at Princeton; he studied Arabic as well as Turkish. In seminary, he learned Hebrew and Greek. At Yale, he studied Sanskrit and Syriac. After joining the faculty at Duke in 1971, he added fluency in Persian and Urdu/Hindi. All the while, he applied his working knowledge of French and German to his scholarly project.

Dr. Lawrence language skill has helped to access diverse networks both within and beyond the Muslim world. Such special access gave him the ability to study worldwide religions in his innovative way through the lens of history.

Major works

Dr. Lawrence has contributed to around 15 books in his 37 years of career at this path, including nine that he authored or co-authored and six that he edited or co-edited. many are considered significant contributions to the field of Islam and public policy. “Shattering the myth: Islam beyond Violence” published in 1998, was translated into Arabic in 2003, and twice nominated for the grawemeyer award in religion, The Quran a Biography has been translated into 18 languages. Many other excellent works, like Who is Allah? The Quran in English, New Faiths, Old Fears, have opened many dimensions of the field.

Dr. Lawrence and his colleagues at Emory University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill founded the Carolina Duke-Emory Institute for the Study of Islam at that time when there were no other Islamic study centers in the country in 1997.

In 2002, CDISI became incorporated into a much more expensive unit located at Duke and called the Center for the Study of Muslim Networks (CSMN). 

UNC book series, Islamic civilization and Muslim Network, published in eleven titles constitute a significant accomplishment of CSMN. 

In 2005 CSMN evolved into the Duke Islamic studies center (DISC), a diverse community Of scholars and students that offers a unique certificate program for undergraduates and expands partnership with universities in Muslim majority countries.

 According to Duke provost Peter Lange, the University’s top academic official, the work of DISC is significant in the way it complements many of the University’s top priorities, including advancing the undergraduate experience and promoting the internationalization of a scholarship. For Dr. Lawrence, DISC’s launch has been almost a dream come true. He is its inaugural director and its most senior faculty member.

Doctor Lawrence says, “many associate Islam with terrorism, but in fact, terrorist represents less than .01 % of all Muslims. His research focuses on everyday Muslim and Muslim communities in Africa and Asia, including groups nearly ignored by academia and the media alike, which is of great interest to the scholar’s program. “A nation’s treatment of its minority citizens reveals much about that nation itself”, Dr. Lawrence says. Since 9/11, multi-confessional nationalism, once a weathervane of social comity, appears at risk throughout Africa and Asia.

He added more “among unnoted victims of the ‘war on terror’ are indigenous minorities, not recent refugees or stateless migrants but groups who for centuries have been standard-bearers of deep pluralism within several African and Asian nation-States”. Dr. Lawrence became one of 20 new Carnegie scholars in 2008. He uses the two-year fellowship to research “pious patriots”: religious minorities as secular citizens in Ethiopia, Egypt, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Dr. Lawrence examines the question of challenges to multi creedal nationalism from the perspective of Christian minorities in Muslim majority countries and Muslim minorities in Christian majority countries of Asia and Africa add to its value.

Compliments of intellectuals

Dr. Broadhead, the president of Duke University, said, “among contemporary scholars of Islam, few can claim the breadth, depth, and productivity of the scholarship of Bruce B Lawrence”. A fellow Carnegie scholar Dr. Omid Safi says, “Professor Lawrence is intellectually fearless, diving into the ocean of new knowledge.”

Dr. Robert C Gregg, The Moore professor in religious studies emeritus at Stanford University. “Bruce has one of the quickest minds I know of” his chosen studies have given him an extensive picture framework, a breadth of vision.

Dr. Safi recalls, “I went up and introduced myself, and so began an abiding friendship. now in its third decade, Bruce is the most brilliant person I have ever met and the most genuinely pluralistic.”

Stanford’s Dr. Gregg, who co-taught a course in religion at Duke with doctor Lawrence in 1980, calls him a “great intellectual” and predicts that his wide lens and sweeping vision will capture the Panorama of his corporations that supported the project. He recalls doctor is passionate about Islam and the need to understand its core elements as well as its contemporary profile”.

Pluralism in the eye of the professor

Doctor Lawrence says, “territorial conflict is the cause of intercultural conflict”. The professor is a great exponent of pluralism (pluralism is a political philosophy that affirms diversity within a political body that permits the peaceful coexistence of different groups, Nations, communities, and sources of authority). The professor shows intercultural connectivity, elucidates and analyses cross-cultural differences in his writings. Thus, he inspires pluralism.

Barzakh Logic of Professor Bruce

He talks about Muslim cosmopolitanism (“Cosmopolitan embodies two things together but not crossing one’s boundary, Others do not delude one”) defined by Dr. Lawrence. He presents a verse of surah Rahman of Quran “مرج البحرين يلتقيان، بينهما برزخ لا يبغيان”

“He (Allah) merged the two bodies of water converging together, between them is a barrier that they do not overrun.” Through this verse, he tries to convince us how two different water bodies are closed together and not overrun by anyone; they exist peacefully. So, a society from many other countries and cultures can live together by promoting Universal moral standards and developing a platform for mutual cultural expression and tolerance.

Works of Professor Bruce B Lawrence


Bruce B Lawrence

The Bruce B. Lawrence Reader: Islam beyond Borders


Bruce B Lawrence

The Koran in English: A Biography


Bruce B Lawrence

Who Is Allah?


Bruce B Lawrence

Defenders of God the Fundamentalist Revolt against the modern age


Bruce B Lawrence

Shattering the Myth


Bruce B Lawrence

Sufi Martyrs of Love: The Chishti Order in South Asia and Beyond


Bruce B Lawrence

The Qur’an a Biography


Bruce B Lawrence

Shahrastani on the Indian Religions


Bruce B Lawrence

Islamicate Cosmopolitan Spirit: Myth or Movement (Wiley-Blackwell Manifestos)


Bruce B Lawrence

Muslim Networks from Hajj to Hip Hop


Bruce B Lawrence

Beyond Turk and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities 


Bruce B Lawrence

Old Fears – Muslims and Other Asian


Bruce B Lawrence

Prophecy and Power: Muhammad and the Qur’an in the Light of Comparison


Bruce B Lawrence

Notes from a Distant Flute


Bruce B Lawrence

Rose and the Rock: Mystical and Rational Elements in the Intellectual History of South Asian Islam


Bruce B Lawrence

Nizam Ad-Din Awliya