ACUMEN Spring 2022

8 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 “When we do that, we have to begin from a place of radical empathy. And trying to understand complicated things, rather than seeking sort of simple answers. If you actually engage with Muslims as fellow human beings, then you have to engage with them in their full complexity. And that’s hard. It’s hard to do.” MATHEMATICS NATURAL SYSTEMS Many natural systems, such as ecosystems, are examples of complex systems comprised of a large number of connections with interactions among them. The study of such stochastic models, where uncertainty and randomness are present, and their applications are at the heart of research by mathematician Si Tang. Supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Tang’s current research focuses on three stochastic models that arise from natural systems with complex behavior, such as phase transition, selforganization and chaos. The first model is called first-passage percolation (FPP), which describes how “particles” spread in a random environment. FPP is often used to model fluid flow in porous media or the growth of tumor or bacteria cells. The second model, called the spin glasses, describes some unusual magnetic behavior of alloys such as aging. The last model uses a set of ordinary differential the West’s own peculiar historical experience as a normative ideal for evaluating all variations of religion. Culture talk sees Islam in relation to the West’s perception of modernity, concerned with identifying Islam as a culture that is then judged against an ever-changing notion of contemporary, therefore making it difficult to pin down as a theoretical ideal. Through close examination of these inhibitions, Hussain suggests that ‘depoliticization’ of Islam accurately describes the problems associated with the lived experience of Muslims in the West and elsewhere. Modernity is an amorphous concept that means many things to many people, he notes. But as with Muslims and the West, there are distinguishing aspects that separate the modern world from its predecessors. Close examination reveals that the drivers of cultural change in the modern age are actually quite common across the world. “When we share the world, we have to have a kind of a perspective that matches the enormity of the world, but also how small it has become,” says Hussain, who is also director of Lehigh’s Humanities Center. RELIGION STUDIES THE MUSLIM SPEAKS There are nearly 2 billion Muslims in the world, and they hold a variety of national, ethnic, class and political views. The countless Muslim experiences of the modern world collectively constitute a set of descriptions, expectations and evaluations of the world that are distinctively Muslim, says Khurram Hussain, and his book The Muslim Speaks reimagines Islam as an approach for investigating this modern state of affairs. Rather than viewing Islam as an issue external to an isolated West, Hussain posits that it is central to the development of the West. Hussain, assistant professor of religion studies, argues there are three broad areas that inhibit the availability of Islam as a feasible, critical participant in Western debates about moral, intellectual and political concerns, topics he labels freedom talk, reason talk and culture talk. Freedom talk identifies Islam as a way of doing politics that is judged as either parallel or contradictory with the West. Reason talk identifies Islam as a religion that is then judged against YELENA AFONINA / GETTY IMAGES, CHRISTINE KRESCHOLLEK BRIEFS Women walking together in Grozny, Russia. Si Tang