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Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, May 11, 2009

IU Bloomington faculty member named National Humanities Center Fellow

May 11, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- John Hanson, an associate professor in the Indiana University Bloomington Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been named a National Humanities Center Fellow for the 2009-10 academic year.

Hanson will use the fellowship to complete a book, tentatively titled Islam, Schooling and the Public Sphere: The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Ghana, West Africa.

He is one of 33 fellows selected by the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., from among 475 applicants. The scholars are from 23 U.S. colleges and universities and from institutions in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom.

Hanson's research examines how the Ahmadiyya Muslim movement has been an important force for education and progress in Western Africa, particularly in Ghana.

The religious movement was founded over a century ago in South Asia by Ghulam Ahmad, who advocated reform of Islam and engagement with the West, such as the acquisition of scientific and technological knowledge. At the invitation of African Muslims, it established a mission in 1921 in the British Gold Coast (which later became Ghana).

The movement founded English-language schools, open to Muslims and Christians and to boys and girls in the British Gold Coast. Graduates of Ahmadi schools constituted most of the Western-educated Muslims in Ghana at the time of independence in 1957. Today there are more than 1 million Ahmadi Muslims in Ghana, a nation of over 20 million people.

Hanson traveled to Ghana, interviewed informants and conducted research in archives and libraries with support from Rockefeller, Fulbright and Indiana University research grants. His research investigates the interplay between Islam, schooling and the public sphere in Ghana.

"It raises questions about Muslim engagement with other traditions," he said. "For example, the widespread misperception of Muslims being hostile to constructive engagement with the West certainly is contradicted by the Ahmadiyya movement."

He said the book he writes will explore scholarly questions about education, modernity and society, but should be accessible and interesting to a general audience. "In a post-9/11 world, scholars of Islam have a special burden to reveal the great diversity of the Muslim world," he said.

Hanson is former director of the Africa Studies Program at IU Bloomington and former editor of the journal Africa Today. His books include Migration, Jihad and Muslim Authority in West Africa; the Futanke Colonies in Karta and After the Jihad: The Reign of Ahmad al-Kabir in the Western Sudan.

He is part of the 32nd class of National Humanities Center resident scholars since the center opened in 1978. Funding for the fellowships comes from the center's endowment, grants from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and contributions from center alumni.