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Pew Forum Partners with Brookings and American University to launch New Initiative

Akbar Ahmed to Lead Exploration of Islam in the Age of Globalization

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, and American University’s School of International Service are pleased to announce the launch of a new joint initiative: Islam in the Age of Globalization.


Mary Schultz
Communications Manager

Islam in the Age of Globalization” recognizes the dual challenges the United States faces in its relations with the Muslim world and in addressing the role of religion in twenty-first century world politics. It will explore the question of “Who speaks for Islam?” in an era of globalization. That is, the research project will examine how authority within Islam is legitimated in the modern Muslim world; how leaders establish their authority, especially in relation to divine texts; public reception of leaders claiming to speak for divine texts; and the effect of such issues on politics and policy.

“You can’t understand the future direction of Islam without understanding who speaks for Islam,” remarked Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. “Questions of legitimacy and authority bear on a wide array of policy issues facing the U.S. in its relations with the Muslim world – issues such as democracy, reform, public diplomacy and the battle against terrorism.”

Louis Goodman, dean of American University’s School of International Service, added, “This project will help policy-makers, scholars, and citizens comprehend the diversity of Islam as well as how to create positive outcomes from the multi-logue which has intensified exponentially since 9/11.”

The initiative will function under the auspices of the Brookings Project on U.S. Policy towards the Islamic World, housed within the Saban Center, and will be developed in partnership with the Pew Forum and American University. Prof. Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies and professor of international relations at American University, will serve as the principal investigator for the initiative and will also join Brookings as a nonresident senior fellow.

Dr. Ahmed has a distinguished career marked by service as an anthropologist, civil servant, diplomat, filmmaker, and participant in interfaith dialogue. A former High Commissioner of Pakistan to Great Britain, he has been described by the BBC as “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam.” Together with Judea Pearl, Ahmed leads the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding. The recipient of multiple teaching and scholarship awards, including 2004 Professor of the Year for Washington, D.C. by the Carnegie Foundation, he was honored earlier this year at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC for his years of interfaith work.

Dr. Peter W. Singer, Brookings senior fellow and director of the Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World, commented, “The combination of Akbar’s academic research on Islam and globalization, his governmental service, and his dedication to interfaith outreach and scholarship makes him a valuable addition to the program.”

Ahmed holds a Ph.D in sociology and anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He has authored or edited over ten books, including Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society; Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise; and Islam Under Siege: Living Dangerously in a Post-Honor World. He also produced a “Jinnah quartet,” consisting of a documentary, feature film, graphic novel, and non-fiction book on Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.

About the Initiative Partners:

American University’s School of International Service is the largest school of international affairs in the United States. Its Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies was established in 1981 to create broader understanding of Islam among Muslims and non-Muslims.

The Brookings Institution, one of Washington’s oldest think tanks, is an independent, nonpartisan organization devoted to research, analysis, and public education. The Brookings Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World, housed under the auspices of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, seeks to examine how the United States can reconcile its need to defeat terrorism and reduce the appeal of extremist movements with its need to build more positive relations with Muslim states and communities.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life delivers timely, impartial information to national opinion leaders on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs; it also serves as a neutral venue for discussions of those matters. The Forum is a project of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

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