Leading scholar of Islam John Esposito spoke recently at the Carnegie Council in New York City, addressing both the perception of Islam in the West and the prospects for reform within Islamic societies, themes which he takes up in his latest book, The Future of Islam:

What I try to do in this book is, in a sense, pull together and summarize and then move forward with a lot of work that I have done in the past. But it also is greatly enhanced by a project that I’ve been involved with now for quite a few years.

But the reality of it is that one of the things that has really enhanced my excitement for where we are and where we can go in terms of thinking about policy is the Gallup World Poll and the influence I think that that data has and will continue to have. That is becoming associated with Gallup—I am a Gallup senior scientist—and their world poll, which is being done every year now, supposedly for the next 100 years, which not only looks at most of the countries in the world in terms of well-being, but within that at some 35 to 40 Muslim countries from across the world. As a result, Dalia Mogahed at Gallup and I wrote a book called Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, and there will be a PBS show called “Inside Islam” based on the book.

What that allows us to do is to have access to the voices of Muslims. In other words, in this battle of the experts, whether they’re policymakers or government or academic experts, they’re always talking about “them,” and the “them” often are the extremists; or they talk about “the street.”

The reality of it is often, no matter how good the expert is, you can only be in so many countries so many times and interface with so many people. So when we want to know what do Muslims think about democracy or is democracy possible, in addition to our theologizing and politicizing, et cetera, one of the questions is: What do Muslims actually believe? Or if we want to know Muslim attitudes toward women’s rights, what do men and women across the Muslim world want?

Read the entire transcript here.