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"When the Fringe Dwarfs the Center: Vernacular Islam beyond the Arab World"
John E. Sawyer Seminar

Application Deadline: Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Topic. The 2015/2016 Fellows Program at the Warren Center will examine the topic “When the Fringe Dwarfs the Center: Vernacular Islam beyond the Arab World.”  The project co-directors are: Samira Sheikh (Associate Professor of History), Tony K. Stewart (Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities, Religious Studies), and David J. Wasserstein (Professor of History and Eugene Greener, Jr. Professor of Jewish Studies, History). 

The myriad forms of vernacular Islam often develop in uneasy relationship to the projected authority of the Arab center, and to those who propose that Islam is singular, exceptional, and inherently transnational. How and why these tensions develop will be the focus of the seminar. The seminar co-directors have identified three critical interlocking factors that should allow the seminar participants to trace more effectively the historical trajectories that have encouraged successful vernacularization: adaptation by the many and varied languages of Islam, the changing nature of authority in Islam, and the expanding material environments of Islam. Each of these three will be the focus of a six-week module, with each building on the previous one. The series will culminate in a fourth and final module that should serve as a pragmatic test case by tracking the histories of these three interrelated factors into the current growing tensions in the fringe that parallel in significant ways, but also diverge from, the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa. The strategy should provide a reasonable and systematic framework by which vernacular forms of Islam can be fruitfully compared. 

The Program. Each year, the Warren Center sponsors a Fellows Program with a particular thematic focus involving VU faculty members and one year-long visiting fellow. This year’s Fellows Program theme was selected by the Mellon Foundation to be one of its 2015/2016 John E. Sawyer Seminars, a Mellon Foundation program that provides support for comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments. 

The seminar will include twelve members: the three Vanderbilt University faculty co-directors, six additional Vanderbilt faculty participants, two Vanderbilt graduate student participants, and one visiting postdoctoral fellow from an institution other than Vanderbilt. The group will meet weekly and will have access to generous program funds from the Mellon Foundation and the Warren Center that can be used for visiting speakers, conferences, or other appropriate program‑related expenses. The seminar provides an unusual opportunity for scholars with a variety of specializations to work cooperatively on a common issue in a sustained manner. 

Faculty Participants. The Warren Center operates under the aegis of the College of Arts and Science, and in past years participants in its Fellows program have been almost exclusively faculty members from within the College of Arts and Science. Although the majority of the participants in the 2015/2016 program will also come from the College, we also encourage participation from faculty members from the other divisions of the University. We seek applications from our colleagues in the other schools, and look forward to welcoming individuals from those units as Warren Center Fellows. Faculty participants may have offices in the Center, and are awarded individual research funds in the amount of $4,000. 

Graduate Student Participants. This year’s Fellows Program will include two Vanderbilt University graduate student participants from the College of Arts and Science who are working in areas related to the theme. Applicants must be ABD by August 1, 2015, in order to be eligible. The Graduate Student Fellows will participate fully in the weekly seminar meetings and will each receive a service free stipend of $24,250, plus a research fund of $2,000 for the 2015/2016 year.  Tuition and insurance expenses for the year will also be covered by the fellowship. 

Application Process. Applicants (both Vanderbilt faculty and graduate students) should send a copy of their curriculum vitae (NO MORE THAN FIVE PAGES) and a statement of one or two pages in which they describe the relation of the topic to their own scholarly project to Warren Center Seminar Coordinator Joy Ramirez. Applicants should also notify their department chairs.
Applications are due by Wednesday, November 19, 2014.

 Questions? If you have questions about the program or the application process, feel free to contact the Warren Center (343-6060) or the program co-directors, Samira Sheikh, Tony K. Stewart, and David J. Wasserstein. You may also contact the Center's director, Edward Friedman or the executive director, Mona Frederick.

Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities

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