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African and African-American studies professor wins inaugural engaged scholarship award

Thursday, June 18, 2015

LAWRENCE – Beverly Mack, professor of African and African-American studies, received the first Sharon & Jeffrey Vitter Award for Engaged Scholarship for her project “The American Yan Taru.” The award recognizes outstanding examples of engaged scholarship, or academic scholarship that has been taken off-campus and into the community, contributing to the public good. The award seeks to recognize KU faculty members whose work exemplifies how academic research can have a positive effect on communities.

Mack previously received the Hall Center’s Scholars on Site Award in 2013 to explore this project. Grants are made to KU faculty members who wish to establish or sustain research-oriented collaborations with members of community organizations.

Mack studies Yan Taru practices, a model of community education for Muslim women based on West African Qadiriyya Islam traditions. Yan Taru emphasizes scholarship, social justice and education. The movement was founded in the 19th century by Sufi Muslim scholar Nana Asma'u, a poet whose work Mack has studied for more than 30 years.

Mack’s Scholars on Site award supported the collaborative work that Mack undertook in partnership with leaders in the Yan Taru community. Mack assisted in the creation of a scholarly account of American Yan Taru, the assessment of the current curricula, surveying the efficacy of teaching and resulting community work, and studying how the curriculum affects women's lives.

As a result of her work, Mack held a national conference of Yan Taru women in 2014, worked to develop a curriculum guide on the collected works of Nana Asma’u, conducted oral interviews with members and catalogued the results to help make members make relevant decisions in their teaching methodologies and lesson plans.

Peter Ukpokodu, chair of the African and African-American studies department, said, “Dr. Mack’s work and learned interactions provide a useful and important path to reconnect with the cultural and intellectual heritage of Islam as practiced by Muslim women in the Yan Taru Nigerian and West African origins. In an age in which ISIS or ISIL and al-Qaida and Boko Haram have spread their misinformation and misinterpretation of the Qur’anic and Islamic practices through destruction of lives, property and world heritage sites, Yan Taru communities and their practices help to refocus American Muslim communities on the peaceful, progressive and intellectual origins of their West African heritages.”

In recognition of her important work, and of the effect of her work on the larger community, Mack will receive $1,200. She continues to work with American Yan Taru women on curricula revisions, conference planning and informal consultations, and she is working on a scholarly monograph on the adaptive phenomenon of Yan Taru women and its effect on practices of American Islam, with specific attention to gender equity in intellectual inquiry in Islam.

Expert instruction in Arabic, Kiswahili, and Wolof at the beginning and intermediate levels will be offered over eight weeks in June-July 2018.

Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowships

The Kansas African Studies Center has received $140,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to launch public discussions, community programming, and the creation of educational resources in local communities to discuss the challenges and opportunities surrounding recent demographic changes in the region. Visit to learn more. 

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