What is the culture of Islamic faith? How has the visual and performing arts of Islam acculturated Asia?

These questions and more can be answered at the Islam in Asia Workshop on Friday and Saturday, sponsored by the East-West Center Islam Initiative and Sam Houston State University history department Joan L. Coffey Memorial Symposium.

The workshop will be held in the Olson Auditorium located in Academic Building IV from 1:30 to 8:45 p.m. on Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

The workshop is the first of its kind to be presented at SHSU and is open to the general public free of charge.

“This is a non specialist workshop, it (the workshop) can be used as a learning tool,” said Tracy Steele, associate professor of history.

Steele said the best way to understand another culture is to be proactive about learning.

A plethora of topics are scheduled for discussion including art and Islam in Southeast Asia, women in Islam, overview of Islam and its arrival in Southeast Asia and shifting attitudes towards Islam in Southeast Asia as reflected in everyday life and the arts.

“I am very excited about the whole program,” Steele said. “It is going to be very interesting.”

Steele said there are over 95 mosques in Houston and she offers students the opportunity to visit each semester. Islam is a growing religion that we need to recognize and understand, she said.

After each lecture, a question and answer period will be provided for those attending, which would be a good time to help clear up any misunderstanding the public may have about Islam, according to Steele.

The question and answer sessions are also used for more in depth information that speakers can provide.

Sensitive topics such as jihad (holy war) and the public dimension of Islam will be presented by David Cook, assistant professor in Religious Studies at Rice University in Houston.

Cook received his doctorate from the University of Chicago and his research interests include the study of early Islam, Muslim apocalyptic literature and movements for radical social change, dreams, historical astronomy, Judeo-Arabic literature and Islamic martyrdom.

Lecturing on both days is Barbara Watson Andaya, who was educated at the University of Sydney, received her master of arts at the University of Hawaii supported by an East-West Center fellowship, and her doctorate at Cornell University with a specialization in Southeast Asian history.

She is the author of numerous books and publications and is currently professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Watson is also the director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and president of the American Association of Asian Studies.

Another speaker for the series is Ward Keeler, an associate professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Texas, who earned his doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1982.

Keeler is an expert in Indonesia and Burma and his research interests include symbolic and psychological anthropology, language, culture and the performing arts.

The East-West Center Islam Initiative, which contributes to a peaceful, prosperous and just Asia pacific community is serving as a vigorous hub for cooperative research, education and dialog on critical issues of common concern to the Asia Pacific region and the United States, according to its mission statement.

It was established by the U.S Congress in 1960. The program is designed to strengthen relations and understanding among the people and nations of Asia, the Pacific and the United States.