Islam, Mine Pollution Are Topics Of CU-Boulder Public Lectures At Chautauqua

Published: July 14, 2003

Islamic fundamentalism and pollution from abandoned mines are the final two topics to be discussed as the University of Colorado at Boulder's Reynolds Lecture Series wraps up in late July and early August.

"Cleaning Up Waters Polluted by Abandoned Mines: Obstacles and Opportunities" will be presented July 29 by engineering Associate Professor Joseph Ryan. Religious studies Professor Frederick Denny will present "Whither Islam and the Muslims? Emerging Progressivist Challenges to Fundamentalism" on Aug. 4.

Ryan's mine pollution lecture will take place at the Chautauqua Community House, while Denny's Islam discussion will be held at the Chautauqua Auditorium. Both events begin at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public. Donations of $5 are suggested to benefit Chautauqua programming.

Denny is an expert on Islamic religion, Islam and gender issues, Muslim beliefs and customs, and the spread of Islam in the United States. He's studied Islam since the 1960s and done fieldwork in Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia. More recently he's focused on Muslims in the United States and Canada and is currently on the board of directors for the American Academy of Religion.

Liberal voices within Islam are growing, particularly in Western countries where increasing populations of Muslims enjoy freedom of expression, assembly and debate, Denny said.

"Progressivist Muslims are also active in some Middle Eastern and Asian countries, as well, although they generally do not possess political power and widespread popular influence, compared with Muslims and Islamic organizations that fall more within the varied conservative, fundamentalist and extremist sectors. Those three categories are not by any means to be equated with each other, although there may be overlapping on some issues."

Denny said Iran and Indonesia are two current examples of countries where progressive and fundamentalist Muslims are struggling for influence.

On social issues such as human rights, Denny will discuss differences between Islamic groups. Fundamentalists, he said, are scriptural literalists and quite rigid and tradition-bound in interpreting and applying Quranic teachings, while progressivists support inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.

"Liberals or progressivists tend to interpret the Quran and Islamic legal tradition in flexible ways that account for changes over time in the ways human beings view and evaluate what it means to be human across cultures and religions," he said.

Ryan, who lectured at Chautauqua in March about Colorado's history of abandoned mines and acid mine drainage, teaches in the department of civil, environmental and architectural engineering and is director of the Environmental Engineering program. His research focuses on the transport of contaminants in rivers, lakes and other water sources.

Ryan's July 29 presentation will focus on an ironic dilemma - the fact that the Clean Water Act and environmental groups may be blocking community driven efforts to clean up abandoned mine sites.

"The Clean Water Act states that anyone who tries to clean up a site assumes liability for the cleanup in perpetuity," Ryan said. "Usually the cleanup groups are not financially well off, so they are discouraged by the potentially lengthy financial commitment. Also, they don't want to step in and let the parties responsible for pollution off the hook."

Ryan said that lawmakers in several other states have created "Good Samaritan" laws that do away with the liability problems the Clean Water Act presents, and a few watershed stakeholder groups in Colorado are pushing for similar legislation here.

"If those bills were passed, I think that would create some opportunities for community driven cleanups," he said.

For more information about the lecture series, call the CU-Boulder Office of Community Affairs at (303) 492-7084.