- Religion professor at Duke University
- Member of Duke Divest
- Views the 9/11 attacks as acts of retaliation against U.S. imperialism
Born in August 1941 in Newton, New Jersey, Bruce B. Lawrence is the Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor of Religion at Duke University, where he has taught since 1971. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1962, a Master of Divinity from Episcopal Divinity School (Cambridge) in 1967, and a doctorate (in History of Religions) from Yale University in 1972.
Lawrence is also a member of the student/faculty activist group Duke Divest, which advocates the university’s “divestiture” from Israel and from all companies that conduct any business whatsoever with the Jewish state.
Lawrence contends that in Islamic tradition, genuine jihad is not characterized by violence or conquest, but rather by an effort to become “a better student, a better colleague, a better business partner. Above all, to control one’s anger.”
Counseling Americans to look in the mirror if they wish to find the source of the foreign hatreds aimed at the United States, Lawrence has called for a domestic “jihad that would be a genuine struggle against our own myopia and neglect, as much as it is against outside others who condemn or hate us for what we do, not [for] who we are.”
According to Lawrence, the 9/11 attacks were not acts of unprovoked Arab aggression against the United States, but rather acts of defense against American imperialism.
In 2006 Lawrence authored a paper titled, “Osama bin Laden as Media Star: The Making of an Information Age Anti-Hero.” In that piece, the professor made the case that the al Qaeda leader had become a media sensation with whom George W. Bush was excessively preoccupied. Lawrence concluded, “From his [bin Laden’s] perspective, he is not a terrorist seeking a target, but a leader avenging his victimized community. ‘Our’ terrorist becomes ‘their’ freedom fighter …”
On November 13, 2007, Lawrence was a featured speaker at a “Jihadi Islam Conference” held at UCLA. The focus of the conference was to take “stock of the various approaches applied to the study of jihadism and jihadi movements”; to “discuss the assumptions and methodological problems encountered by researchers”; and to “propose alternative approaches to the study of these phenomena that conform to more broadly applicable historical and social science practice.” Fellow speakers included James Gelvin and Rola El-Husseini.