David Grimland

ISLAM: topics, presentation needs, costs & grants

DGrimland press photo 39Islam & the West:  The Roots of the Conflict — and What Next?” 

This page contains an abbreviated outline of the material I generally cover and the variety of ways it can be approached, from a single presentation (the most common) to a multi-session seminar. 

My goal is to present solid historical and contemporary information, but in as informal a style as possible:  I invite questions/comments and encourage discussion.  The more time available, the more I am able to illustrate the points below with helpful or humorous anecdotes from my personal experience living in Muslim societies.


I.    “Generalist presentation:”  content overview

II.  Different presentation topics and handouts

III. Technical requirements

IV. Costs

V.  “Humanities Montana” Speakers Bureau grants

I.  “Generalist presentation:”  content overview

– Introduction:   Definitions; difficulty of generalizing about “all Muslims;”  American political and media simplification of  historical factors and sensationalizing;  why should we be interested?

– Overview of the life and times of Islam’s founder, Mohammed The Prophet and the religion he founded.  I summarize general Muslim beliefs and practices and –after his death — the new Muslim community’s division over who should succeed Mohammed (the different groups gradually becoming Sunnis and Shias).  I explain the “scriptural” bases of Islam:  the Qur’an,(record of Mohammed’s visions), the sunnah and the hadith which became the basis of Islamic belief, tradition and law (sharia).  All continue to be interpreted and applied differently by the various groups of scholars and political rulers in the centuries since Mohammed’s death.

– “What went wrong?” from the Muslim point of view:  The legacies of the medieval Crusades, the Mongol invasions and the slow retreat of Islamic political dominance as the West expanded from the late 15th century onward;  the more recent (and usually negative) Muslim memories of late 19th, 20th, and 21st century Western colonialism;  Zionism, creation of the state of Israel and subsequent western support of Israel;  the perceived gap between American/European rhetorical commitment to democracy;  perceptions in traditional Muslim societies of the West as decadent/degenerate and its corrosive effects on traditional cultures;  and modern “jihadists” are motivated less by poverty or ignorance, but by a lethal mix of nationalism, zealotry and sense of humiliation.

II.  Different ways of presenting the above material — and handouts:

Topic 1.  I can do a single 75-90 minute talk covering most of the material above, with additional time for questions/discussions.  This would cover – in very broad brush strokes — the material described in a minimal four-five-page handout given to the audience, which includes a map and a timeline

(The handout documents may be downloaded from this site (go to the “Handouts” link), and I ask the sponsor to do the photocopying for however many guests are expected.   Even for the single “generalist” presentation, I encourage sponsors to reproduce the entire booklet, including the Sunni-Shi’ia material, the jihadist notes, the “what can we do?” suggestions and the  “further reading list,” as a continuing resource. 

(Note:  My experience is that often this single generalist presentation and follow-on discussion can go on for up to three hours —  not because I talk that long, but because the continuing questions and concerns from audiences take engage participants.  People are free to leave as they need to.

Topic 1 in two sessions:  If I have more time with the same audience, I can more thoroughly cover the same material in two sessions:  for example, a morning or afternoon session followed by a meal break and continued by an afternoon or evening session.  I cover more the historical detail in more depth, as well as illustrate the history with more anecdotes from my foreign service experience.

(Note:  The #1 option above (whether in one session or two sessions) is a useful “first step” with generalist audiences, but the Shia/Sunni talk and the Jihadist talk are often also appreciated by generalists as “stand-alone” presentations, since those issues get so much attention in the American media.)

I avoid an overly scholarly approach, since my own background and training have been experiential.  My intention is to engage audiences in understands the issues without having had a recent university course in comparative religion — or, for those who are more backgrounded — to offer a first-hand, informed view that can add depth and dimension to formal study. 

(Sometimes sponsors encourage local high school or university students to attend, either as a course requirement or by offering the incentive of extra credit in the school’s history classes.  I also enjoy speaking directly to youth audiences, and have had excellent response.)

Topic 2.  After the basic material above has been given in either one or two presentations, I can present an additional session soley on “Islam:  Monotheistic But Not Monolithic.”

Considered a separate topic under Humanities Montana guidelines, we discuss how “Islam” is as varied as any other world religion.  The most obvious is the Sunni-Shi’ia split — so apparent in the current situation in Iraq.  There is a two-page handout that accompanies this presentation.

However, among Sunnis, there are at least four different schools of interpretaion varying along the conservative to liberal scale — and in the Shiite tradition, there are significant differences between sects in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey.

I also touch on the wide variety of Sufi traditions — Sufis being the “mystics” of Islam, with an underlying belief that humanity can experience the Divine directly, and in a variety of ways.

Topic 3.  A fourth separate “stand-alone” topic is entitled “Jihadists: Crazy or Committed?”  This presentation examines the motivations of Islamic extremists and how better to counter them.  It is one of the thornier issues in our present dilemma, but needs discussion and understanding.  Again, there is an additional single page (double-sided) handout with this presentation.

A subject that often comes up in discussion is what we in America can do (as individuals and institutions) to improve the situation, to help address the problem of American relations with Moslems, both here and abroad.  I have a single double-sided page set of handout notes for subject, but it is usually not a separate presentation.

Note regarding handouts:  For sponsors choosing a multi-presentation program of several talks, I request that sponsoring organizations reproduce all the handouts (downloaded from the “handouts” link on this site) into a single booklet of 10-12 doubled-sided pages, which includes (in addition to those mentioned above, a “further reading” list.  This booklet has proven very popular, since it gives in shortened or graphic form the major points of all the material, plus suggestions for further individual or group reading.


III.  The basic technical needs for my presentations/discussions are simple:

I strongly prefer to use a wireless lapel microphone and speaker, even for small groups, since it helps those who are hard of hearing.  (If a wireless lapel mike & amplifier withspeaker is not locally available, I usually carry a small portable mike and amplifier which is good for audiences up to about 50.)

In addition, I need:

– a simple podium or lecturn (no massive “pulpits,” please — a couple of heavy-duty music stands will do) on which to lay my notes;

–a small table on which to lay several illustrative books

– and a glass/bottle of water. 

I like to be physically close to the audience, and on the same level if possible, since I move around as much as I can and involve people in the talk.  If a semi-circular seating pattern is possible, it contributes to the feeling of inclusiveness.

IV.  Costs: 

My compensation for Montana institutions generally follows the guidelines of the “Humanities Montana” Speakers Bureau (see the following paragraph) guidelines, but can be discussed.  For out-of-state presentations, I prefer to discuss a “package”of costs — transportation, lodging & meals, honoraia — depending on what kind of overall program is wanted. 

The advantage of private arrangements is that institutions may arrange programs that involve only their own membership rather than advertise or open the events to the entire community.  Or they may use the programs as fund-raising events. 

Note:  As described above, I ask that sponsors reproduce at their expense the “booklet” of handouts for each audience member — see the link to the right regarding “Handouts.”

A program without HM sponsorship may be arranged directly with me:  David Grimland, 53 East Ridge Road, Columbus, MT 59019.  Home phone is 406-322-1117, and my email grimland.d@mail.com.

V.  Humanities Montana (HM) Speakers Bureau grants:

With a Humanities Montana grant (Topics 1 and 2 on “Islam: and the topic on “Turkey” described on the separate page to the right), the local Montana sponsor generally pays only the $50 application fee and HM picks up the honoraria, travel, lodging and meals.  Various combinations of local support can be discussed with HM.  I still ask sponsors to reproduce the handout booklet, as noted above (and on the link to the right).    

Please note:  HM grants are conditioned on the premise that the programs are free and open to the public, and any publicity must include their name as one of the program’s co-sponsors.  Humanities Montana requires that applications for grants be submitted at least 30 days prior to the expected program date.

If sponsors wish to apply for a grant from Humanities Montana: 


or they may contact Humanities Montana at 311 Brantly, The University of Montana, Missoula, MT  59812-7848. 

Kim Anderson is the program officer for my presentations:  telephone 406-243-4836 and eMail   kim.anderson@humanitiesmontana.org.   You may also download the HM applications directly from their website above.

Written by davegrimland

January 5, 2008 at 5:02 pm


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