Encyclopedia of Women in Islamic Cultures to Reach Broader Audience

The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (EWIC) tells a complex story of Muslim women that is often missing from mainstream news sources. Thanks to a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, this scholarly reference guide will now reach a larger audience.

“The timeliness of this project is the urgency of challenging the rise of Islamophobia in this country,” says Suad Joseph, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at UC Davis and editor of the EWIC. She argues that “it’s time for this country to learn that it must not characterize and demean whole categories of people and cultures.”

The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures is a project 17 years in the making. The original print edition brought together a whole field of research in a way that no journal or publication had previously done. The EWIC online edition continues to add to the project, currently featuring over 1,400 articles covering 430 topics written by over 1,000 scholars around the globe. Choice, the magazine for librarians, ranked the EWIC as essential for libraries, their highest honor for reference materials. A significant portion of the materials are available online for free, with all of Volume I translated into Arabic.

The project is a model of interdisciplinarity. “All of humanities are represented in this encyclopedia, as are social sciences,” says Joseph. In fact, she does not think of the articles as being exclusive to the humanites or social sciences; they are wedded. Rather than following a traditional alphabetical format, the EWIC volumes follow themes, such as Volume 1: Methodologies, Paradigms and Sources, Vol. II: Family, Law and Politics, Vol III: Family, Body, Sexuality, and Health, Vol IV: Economics, Education, Mobility and Space, and Vol V: Practices, Interpretations, and Representations.

The Henry Luce Foundation Grant will enable Joseph to make this invaluable resource accessible to a larger audience, including teachers, non-governmental organizations, community groups, and the general public. Scholarly articles will be condensed into easily-digestible trifold brochures for distribution to teachers and community groups. Media packets will condense key information from the encyclopedia to give to journalists.

This grant merges two of Joseph’s long-term projects: the EWIC and her ten-year project on major mainstream newspaper representations of women in Islam. According to Joseph, public outreach will seek to counter the misrepresentations of women in Muslim cultures so prevalent in U.S. media outlets such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The Luce Grant will fund the production of accessible materials that provide evidence-based research on women in Muslim cultures.

“If you don’t take research out of the academic world, your impact is limited,” Joseph argues. This is the lesson Joseph learned from her participation in the Arab Families Working Group. This group advances the study of youth and families in Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt and their diasporas.

Training students in the craft of making academic work publicly-accessible has been a key part of the EWIC project. The third volume of the EWIC features an extensive article by a team of undergraduate interns analyzing doctoral dissertations on Women and Islamic cultures. Thanks to the Luce Foundation Grant, Joseph will train graduate students to turn academic prose into a style of writing appropriate for encyclopedias, media outreach, and an educated lay public.

“Humanities belongs to all of us. It is so important that we reach out to the public, not just through performance, but in every single aspect in a format that is readily decipherable, accessible, and free. That is what we are trying to do with this project.” All materials and lectures produced through the Luce Foundation grant will be free and open to the public.


For a preview of the online edition of the Encyclopedia of Women in Islamic Cultures, see http://sjoseph.ucdavis.edu/ewic


Photo credit: Neil T via Getty Images, who licensed the photograph under Creative Commons. This image is from a March 2005 “Bring the Troops Home” Demonstration in London.