Intercultural Studies Ph.D. Research: Why Hispanics convert to Islam

January 29, 2019

CIU has first graduate of new program

By Bob Holmes

 Why are Hispanics in the United States turning to Islam? That question was at the center of the doctoral dissertation by the first graduate of Columbia International University’s Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies program.

The first graduate is Dr. Victor Cuartas, an associate professor of Intercultural Studies at CIU. The title of his dissertation is “Agency, Identity, and Religious Commitment/Practice of Hispanic Muslim Converts in Metropolitan D.C. area and New Jersey.”

Cuartas, a native of Colombia, says there are various reasons why some Hispanics in the United States are converting to Islam despite many having a Roman Catholic background.

“Some of them were looking for community and sense of belonging,” Cuartas said. “Others were deeply influenced by Muslim friends at college. Some had theological challenges such as the Trinity and the need to confess their sins to the priest.”

Some of the Muslim converts in Cuartas’ study are second generation Hispanics born in the United States, and most converted to Islam in the U.S.A. He says this research can help evangelical churches understand the dynamic processes, reasons, challenges and the choices that converts make when switching to Islam.

“It can also help to understand better the role of culture, ethnicity and religion in the process of conversion,” Cuartas said. “This research can shed some light regarding the importance of choices, identity, and religious commitment and practice of Muslim minorities in our context.”

CIU Intercultural Studies Professor Dr. David Cashin served as chair of Cuartas’ research and dissertation.  

“Victor did a superlative job on this and all who were present had a wonderful learning experience,” Cashin said. “He handled all questions and critiques with grace and an obvious mastery of this new ground in understanding Hispanic conversion to Islam. There is much food for thought and further research in this field and I think Victor has opened up some new areas of understanding regarding the dynamics of conversion.”

The Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies prepares students to produce research in areas such as history and theology of mission, cultural anthropology, mission strategy, and Islamic Studies. The program is available in three-year and five-year formats.

Dr. Ed Smither, dean of the College of Intercultural Studies says the program is modeled after the European Ph.D. and can be pursued from anywhere in the world.   

“It’s a research degree without classes that focuses on a 100,000 word dissertation under the supervision of a qualified specialist,” Smither said. “Instead of having students come to Columbia, we can take the Ph.D. to them on the field where they can do meaningful research in their own context.”

Smither says the program is also affordable, costing a fraction of what many American and European Ph.D. programs charge.

Columbia International University ranks #1 among colleges and universities in South Carolina by BestColleges.com. Excitement is growing on campus with the new $20 million William H. Jones Global Business & IT Center and CIU’s first baseball program. Request information on enrollment or call (800) 777-2227, ext. 5024.