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Reed professor Kambiz GhaneaBassiri named Carnegie Scholar

GhaneaBassiri selected as an intellectual risk-taker by Carnegie Corporation of New York

PORTLAND, OR (April 27, 2006)—A Reed College professor who is completing a book on the history of Islam in America since the colonial period is one of 20 new Carnegie Scholars.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York selected Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, assistant professor of religion and humanities at Reed, for the award. A coveted academic honor—winners are nominated, they do not apply—the award will provide up to $100,000 of support for GhaneaBassiri's book tracing the phenomenon of American Islam back to the colonial period. He is part of the second group of scholars to pursue Islam-centered research under the program. "Last year when I saw the press release for the class of 2005," he said, "I was very excited about the impact that Carnegie Corporation could have on Islamic Studies in the US."

"Islam is a mosaic of many sects," said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation, in his announcement of the 2006 winners on Tuesday. "It is as diverse as humanity itself. In focusing our Scholars Program on Islam, our overall aim is to expand the range of knowledge and understanding about Islam as a religion and about the cultures and communities of Muslim societies both in the United States and abroad."

Under the new emphasis, the program provides awards to scholars who are developing and expanding the study of Islam within the United States and helping to build a body of original scholarship that makes the field more central to American research and instruction and significantly expands the breadth of knowledge necessary to strengthen leadership and guide national and international policy. The program selects "intellectual risk-takers" to accomplish this goal, said Neil Grabois, vice president and director for strategic planning and program coordination for Carnegie Corporation.

"Despite the omnipresence of Islam in the media," says GhaneaBassiri, "the academic study of Islam has had little influence on the way it is discussed in the public square. The Corporation's decision to focus its Scholars Program on Islam for the next few years could help change that."

The award is usually for one year, but GhaneaBassiri will have to stretch his award over two years: he's been asked by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Religious Endowments in Morocco to lead curricular reform efforts at Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania next year. The Islamic seminary, which has begun teaching non-Islamic religions and non-Islamic languages as well as philosophy and social sciences, wants GhaneaBassiri to direct academic affairs during the 2006-2007 academic year. "I have drafted a couple of chapters of the book and will continue writing while in Morocco, but I'll complete the manuscript when I get back to Portland," he says.

While finalizing the manuscript for Cambridge University Press, GhaneaBassiri will travel among Muslim communities in the US to promote the book. "It's a collaborative effort, he says. "On one hand, I want feedback that can make the book more relevant, and on the other, I want to help these communities develop a more accurate and historically informed vocabulary for understanding the relationship between Islam and modernity and the historical role of Islam in religious pluralism in America." GhaneaBassiri is committed to a plain-language view of history for the project, focusing on actual events and experiences to shed light on positive interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims in a common democracy.

The 2006 class of scholars represents a variety of professional, ethnic, and geographical backgrounds. Half the class received a doctorate in or after 1997, almost half are women, and many are holders of multiple degrees. The range of the scholars' professional fields includes Islamic studies, law, religion, history, sociology, gender studies, international relations, politics, anthropology, constitutionalism, human rights, and comparative literature.

As a scholar of Islam at a liberal arts college, where faculty and students are challenged to think in broad theoretical terms about their areas of specialization, GhaneaBassiri feels well-suited to be part of the project. "I'm also extremely honored," he says. "My selection, I think, speaks to the larger social significance of a liberal arts education at a place like Reed." GhaneaBassiri is the second Reed faculty member to win the honor. In 2003, Darius Rejali, professor of political science, was selected for support of his forthcoming book Approaches to Violence (Princeton University Press, 2008). "These are extremely prestigious and highly competitive awards, among the most competitive in the academic world," said Peter Steinberger, dean of the faculty at Reed. "We are enormously proud to have had two Carnegie Scholars in recent years. The success of Darius and Kambiz helps demonstrate the unusual strength of the teacher/scholar model as it operates at Reed. In each of these cases, the seamless interplay of teaching and research produces terrific educational opportunities for our students and compelling contributions to the larger world of scholarship."

GhaneaBassiri was born in Tehran, Iran, and grew up in the United States. He earned a B.A. from Claremont McKenna College in 1994 and holds an A.M. (1998) and Ph.D. (2003) in religion from Harvard University. GhaneaBassiri has been a member of the Reed faculty since 2002.

The twenty Carnegie Scholars for 2006, their institutions, and research titles are:

Abbas Amanat, Yale University
Defying Islamic Conformity: Skeptics, Heretics and Rebelling Dervishes

Said Arjomand, State University of New York, Stony Brook
Islam and Constitutional Reconstruction in the Middle East: A Historical and Comparative Perspective

Raymond W. Baker, Trinity College
The Contemporary Islamic Wassatteyya (Mainstream): Understanding the Resilience and Appeal of Islam in a Global Age

Eva Bellin, Hunter College
Arbitrating Identity: High Courts and the Politics of Islamic-Liberal Reconciliations in the Muslim World

Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, New York University
Islam and the Emergence of Modern China

Devin DeWeese, Indiana University, Bloomington
Historical and Critical Perspectives on Islam in Central Asia

Marwa Elshakry, Harvard University
Science and Secularism in the Arab World After Darwin

Fawaz A. Gerges, Sarah Lawrence College
The Intra-Jihadist War

Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Reed College
A History of Islam in America since the Colonial Period

Ellis Goldberg, University of Washington
Sovereignty, Community and Citizenship in Contemporary Arab Political Thought

Aziz Huq, New York University
Counter-Terrorism, Speech Regulation, and Muslim Minorities in the West

Marion Holmes Katz, New York University
Contesting the Mosque: Debates over Muslim Women’s Ritual Access

Clark B. Lombardi, University of Washington
Muslim Judges as a New Voice in Islamic Discourse

Farzaneh Milani, University of Virginia
Re-mapping the Cultural Geography of Iran: Islam, Woman, and Mobility

Yitzhak Nakash, Brandeis University
Governance and Leadership in Modern Islam

Vali R. Nasr, Naval Postgraduate School
Gauging the Prospects for the Rise of “Muslim Democratic” Political Parties and Platforms in Muslim Democracies

Jen’nan Ghazal Read, University of California, Irvine
Multiple Identities and Muslim American Political Incorporation

Heather J. Sharkey, University of Pennsylvania
Christian Evangelism and Western Imperialism in the Modern Middle East: The Long-Term Consequences of American Missionary Encounters with Muslims

Elora Shehabuddin, Rice University
Women at the Muslim Center: Islamist Ideals and Democratic Exigencies

Madhavi Sunder, University of California, Davis
The New Enlightenment: How Muslim Women are Bringing Religion and Culture Out of the Dark Ages