In the current global context, countries with large Muslim populations constitute a large percentage of the world's poorest communities. Established in 2001, the Harvard Working Group for Health and Social Change in the Islamic World seeks to assemble a wide range of academics and health and development practitioners to promote interdisciplinary research into the social, political, economic and technical aspects of health and development in Muslim countries.

 Western society's views of Islam have often been dominated by polemic and misinformation, with little effort given to developing a balanced understanding of a culture and civilization viewed as an almost complete other. In the modern world, unnuanced and often mistaken views about Islam and socio-economic development in Muslim societies and communities have arguably had a direct impact on morbidity, mortality, and the perpetuation of poverty. This program seeks to further the understand of these ideas with the end goal of improving health status and quality of life in Muslim societies.

 Integral to our analysis is understanding what role Islam plays, if any, toward disease and illness; how traditional Islamic medical practices are integrated with allopathic (cosmopolitan) medicine; how the relationship between gender and health status in Muslim communities is linked to social and political upheaval; how issues of privatized social services and different standards or care between rich and poor are perceived, understood and addressed in Muslim communities; and how institutions and ethical formulations that have traditionally existed, and possibly exist today, can help in the maintenance and expansion of social services (e.g. waqf). In being intimately tied to the relationship between the individual and the broader social community and the individual and State, these questions aim to define structures of civil society in past and present Muslim communities. 

This program is a joint initiative of the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Department of Social Medicine and Harvard Medical School. 


Copyright 2001 Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies
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