Patrick Bowen, "A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, Vol 1: White American Muslims before 1975" (Brill, 2015)


In the current political moment there is widespread anti-Muslim rhetoric and it would be easy to conclude that a large portion of white Americans see Islam at odds with American values. But a longer view of history reveals a long-standing appreciation for Islam and even conversion to the tradition among white Americans. Patrick D. Bowen, and independent scholar, uncovers this rich history in A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, Volume 1: White American Muslims before 1975 (Brill, 2015). Bowen outlines Americans view Islam in 19th century and early 20th century and demonstrates the various motivations for conversion. Early converts who 'Turned Turk' were seen as renegades by most of their peers but the broadening of American liberal religiosity throughout the 19th century fostered further intellectual engagement with the tradition. Early 20th century saw significant changes in the social landscape that shaped conversion. It was now social relationships rather than esoteric interests that aided white Americans in their conversion. Greater contact with immigrant Muslims and greater participation in Islamic organizations, publications, and social activities further increased conversion throughout the second half of the century. The book is part one in a multi-volume project, which will also address conversion among black and latino Americans up until the present. In our conversation we discuss the earliest known white converts, a revival of occult, the Theosophical Society, Alexander Russell Webb, marriage, Pan-Islamic goals, the international Muslim student population, Sufi reading groups, women converts, Asian religious movements in America, US Muslim Institutions, and overall goals of the multi-volume project.

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Kristian Petersen

Kristian Petersen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at

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