James A. Toronto
Asian & Near Eastern Languages
Mormonism, Nineteenth century, Religion
I view each of my students as a uniquely gifted individual of intrinsic worth and infinite potential. I therefore do everything in my power to strengthen students’ awareness of their uniqueness and capability; help them achieve success in my course; equip them with increased intellectual and spiritual capacity to pursue their aspirations in life; and encourage them to contribute throughout their lives to building prosperous, compassionate communities wherever they live.
My research interests and publications deal with Islamic education, Muslim immigration in Europe, History of the LDS Church in Italy, and LDS missiology in the Ottoman Empire.
I am convinced of the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation as a cornerstone of effective undergraduate education. I have therefore been an enthusiastic advocate of and participant in interdisciplinary studies and collaborative learning experiences that incorporate the theories, methodologies, and perspectives of various academic fields. I have witnessed the positive results that accrue in building strong relations and coalitions with other local, national, and international organizations.
- Served from 2019-2021 on the planning committee for the BYU-sponsored conference on “Debates between Progressive and Traditionalist Muslims in Contemporary Islamic Life” to be held at Brigham Young University in October 2021. This conference will bring leading scholars and religious leaders, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to BYU for a public forum on current dynamics, challenges, and issues that characterize the worldwide Muslim community.
- From 2005-2020, provided academic expertise and counsel on several LDS Church committees involved with policy formation and outreach to Muslim communities in the U.S. and abroad.
- Organized the Rocky Mountain Model Arab League regional conference at BYU on February 14-15, 2020, bringing together 120 students and faculty from universities and high schools in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and California for policy debate and diplomacy simulation regarding contemporary political, social, economic, and environmental issues in the Arab world.
- Served on the planning committee for the international conference on “Religion and the Rule of Law in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” held in Amman in April 2018. Conference sponsored by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. I was an ex officio member of the committee in my capacity as Senior Fellow in Islamic Studies at ICLRS, a position I held from 2013-2018.
- On-site organizer and supervisor of the international interfaith summit on religious freedom in Central Eurasia held in Istanbul, Turkey from November 16-18, 2015. This conference brought together legal scholars, judges, attorneys, government officials, and religious leaders from countries across Central Eurasia, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. It was co-sponsored by Istanbul University and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, and was affiliated with the international G-20 summit held simultaneously in Antalya, Turkey.
- Organized and supervised the international conference entitled “Religions and Constitutional Transitions in the Muslim Mediterranean: The Pluralistic Moment” held at Insubria University, Como, Italy from June 3-5, 2014. The conference was co-sponsored by the Insubria Center on Law and Religion in the Mediterranean Region, Insubria University, Como, Italy, and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, Brigham Young University. This conference provided an opportunity to bring together scholars, government officials, and civil society leaders from the Middle East, North Africa, and southern Europe to discuss three basic questions related to religious freedom: constitutionalism, the role of religious parties, and the status of religious minorities. I co-edited a published volume of the papers presented at this conference.
- Organized and supervised, in cooperation with Italian faculty members from Insubria University in Como, Italy, the International Conference on Law and Religious Freedom held at Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco from November 7-9, 2013. Scholars from around the Mediterranean littoral—North Africa, the Levant, and southern Europe—participated in examining religious freedom issues from the Islamic and Christian contexts.
- 2012-2015: Coordinator of the Middle East Studies/Arabic (MESA) program at BYU, housed in the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies.
- Served from 2004-2006 as a member of the Academic Unit Review Committee for the university, participating in reviews of the departments of Spanish and Portuguese, Microbiology and Molecular Biology, and as chair of the committee review for Visual Arts.
- Served from 2004-2005 on the planning committee for the BYU-sponsored conference on “Islam in America” held at Brigham Young University on March 17, 2005. This conference brought leading Muslim scholars and religious leaders to BYU for a public forum examining the history, composition, and contemporary issues in the American Muslim community.
- 1998-2003: University assignment as country coordinator for Jordan, designated one of three Special Focus Countries by the BYU administration and Board of Trustees. Acted as liaison between church leaders and university officials to help coordinate activities in the Middle East and to promote academic and cultural exchange with educational and government institutions in that region.
- Advisor from 1989-1995, 1998-2005 to two on campus student organizations: the Arabic Club and the Muslim Student Association. Assisted these students in adjusting to a new culture and educational system, negotiating their way through the BYU bureaucracy, working through personal and career questions, and planning and carrying out club activities like International Week, Arab Awareness Week, talent shows, and lectures.