Dr. Mara Leichtman has been awarded a prestigious fellowship of the Luce/American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Program in Religion, Journalism & International Affairs. Dr. Leichtman is an Associate Professor of Anthropology affiliated with the Muslim Studies Program, African Studies Center, and Asian Studies Center. Her research interests focus on the interconnections among religion, migration, politics, and economic development through examining Muslim institutions and the communities they serve.
Luce/ACLS Fellowships support scholars in the humanities and social sciences pursuing research on any aspect of religion in international contexts with a desire to convey their specialist knowledge to the media. The Luce/ACLS Fellowships culminate in producing a significant piece of scholarly work and communicating these perspectives to public audiences through collaboration with journalists. Dr. Leichtman’s fellowship will support her book project, “Humanitarian Islam: Transnational Religion and Kuwaiti Development Projects in Africa.”
Arab Gulf states are surpassing Western development agencies in providing assistance to African countries. Dr. Leichtman’s research will analyze individual, civil society, and state giving in Kuwait through Islamic ethical frameworks as motivations for charity. Case studies of transregional connections with Senegal and Tanzania assess the cultural and religious impact of Gulf funding in Africa while complicating the “giver/receiver” binary. Through exploring Sunni and Shi‘i organizations in Africa, Dr. Leichtman’s project will unpack the politics of Kuwaiti giving by situating the aid apparatus within national, international, historical and contemporary contexts. Media coverage has depicted Africa as another sphere for the Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry in disseminating Sunni-Shi‘i sectarianism. Based on this research, public writing for media and policy outlets will demonstrate that Iran is not the only Shi‘i player in Africa and that Africans are not simply pawns in Gulf power politics.
Dr. Leichtman is among only six other scholars from across the country to be awarded a fellowship this year. In addition to receiving $63,000 to implement their projects, each fellow will participate in a media training workshop and an annual symposium that brings the scholars into dialogue with renowned journalists to discuss key issues in religion and international affairs. This collaboration will serve to disseminate more nuanced, contextualized, and dynamic understandings of religion in global public life, politics, and policy. The Luce/ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism & International Affairs is made possible by the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.
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