In a diverse world, how do we promote unity and coexistence? For those who are marginalized due to their race, religion, or political beliefs, what is their daily reality like as they struggle to belong in various communities? How can we redefine our understanding of identity and acceptance in a world with vast differences?
Ken Chitwood has dedicated the past decade to exploring the intriguing phenomenon of Puerto Rican converts to Islam. His extensive research has culminated in the upcoming release of AmeRícan Muslims: Everyday Cosmopolitanism among Puerto Rican Converts to Islam, to be published by the esteemed University of Texas Press. This highly anticipated book is set to make a significant impact on fresh audiences and is scheduled for release in 2024/25.
Here is a brief introduction to Chitwood's new book:
Meeting “Lebron" at Noches de Colombia, a restaurant in Union City, New Jersey that serves pan-Latin American cuisine. The restaurant's windows were fogged up due to the humidity, but that didn't stop us from discussing his recent comments on "The Deen Show," a popular YouTube program hosted by Eddie Redzovic.
In response to disparaging tweets about Muslims made by then Miss Puerto Rico, Destiny Velez, Lebron stated that the Muslim community would welcome Ms. Velez, but she needed to exhibit more "Boricua pride" and a "history lesson."
Lebron emphasized the importance of Puerto Rican culture and history, encouraging Ms. Velez to learn more about how the country came to be after colonization. He also talked about Muslim contributions to mathematics, science, education, technology, and navigation throughout history, particularly in Andalusian Spain and the Caribbean.
Lebron challenged Ms. Puerto Rico to explore how Islam is connected to Puerto Rican culture, particularly his family's Taíno, African, and Andalusian roots.
Through ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Puerto Rico, the U.S., and online, I gained a nuanced understanding of how Islam shapes Puerto Rican Muslims' daily lives as "quadruple minorities." They are Puerto Rican in the Muslim community, Muslim in the Puerto Rican community, and both Puerto Rican and Muslim in the U.S. context.
Puerto Rican Muslims face multiple boundaries in their lives. They often have to suppress part of their identity, adapt their representation, or resist marginalization to fit into established communities.
Their experiences and perspectives provide valuable insights into Islam, Muslim communities in the Americas, and Latinx Muslims in the U.S. Additionally, they offer a critical focus on the supposed "margins" of the study of global Islam.
In particular, studying Puerto Rican Muslims' cosmopolitan lives helps us better understand how Muslims in the modern world negotiate diversity and differences among themselves and with non-Muslims.
Ken Chitwood is a journalist-fellow with the University of Southern California's Center for Religion and Civic Culture and a Lecturer in Islamwissenschaft at Otto Friedrich Universität Bamberg and in Global Christianity with Concordia College New York's Global Initiative program. His academic work focuses on religion in the Americas and the study of global Islam, with particular emphasis on Islam and Muslim communities in the Americas (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, the Latinx U.S.), trans-local religion, intersections of religion & culture, Christian-Muslim relations, global Christianity, Muslim minorities, & ethnographic methods and manifestations of religion-beyond-religion in a global and digital age.
Ken Chitwood is an accomplished academic who has written extensively on topics such as Judaism in Latin America and the Caribbean, Afro-American religious traditions, religion and popular culture, and more. He has also been a book reviewer for several years, covering a range of subjects including Christianity, Islam, religion, anthropology, culture, self-help, and history. With over 125 books and monographs reviewed, Chitwood is a seasoned expert who contributes to publications such as Publisher's Weekly and Reading Religion from the American Academy of Religion.
Moreover, he is a highly acclaimed journalist who has been honored for his exceptional coverage of religion, travel, and culture. His work has been featured in several reputable publications like Newsweek, Salon, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Religion News Service, AFAR Magazine, The Times of India, USA Today, Sojourners Magazine, Sightings from the University of Chicago, Christian Century, The Houston Chronicle, and many others. Additionally, he is a progressive Lutheran theologian, pastor, and a sought-after speaker who advocates for the significance of "glocal" Christianity in the modern era.