Her dissertation centers on charitable giving in American Muslim communities, at the intersection of race, class, and moral subjectivities. Merriman has been involved in rights-based work in Arab and Muslim communities in the United States and Jordan and also lectures publicly on religious literacy and anti-racism practices. In addition, she is the founder and guide for Muslim History Tour New York City, which explores 400 years of Islamic history captured in often overlooked sites, architecture, and events of the past.
Forty Houses of Giving charts the growing field of Muslim charitable organizations in the United States. It argues that over the last three decades, the 501(c)(3) faith-based relief and development organization became a dominant form of collective charity among American Muslims. As a religious “third space” institution, charities hold significant regulatory power over the moral obligations, rituals, and technical requirements of Islamic charity. Authority emerges not through the publication of traditional religious tracts but constant multimedia publications and live, embodied engagement with Muslims communities at fundraisers or voluntary service events. Looking at the contemporary field, I demonstrate how humanitarian logic and neoliberal development practices are central to the conceptualization of –and debates over – Islamic charity in the United States. The dissertation is empirically focused on four large US-based international charities as well as several local, grassroots organizations in Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. It aims to forward theoretical work in the study of religious institutions and ethical authority; morality and affect; and race and class in Islam. Additionally, it seeks to increase public awareness of the historical and contemporary contributions of American Muslims to the eradication of structural inequality in the United States as well as suffering abroad due to global warfare.