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Professor receives Hall Center's first Scholars on Site award

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

LAWRENCE — The Hall Center for the Humanities has announced that Beverly Mack, University of Kansas professor of African and African-American studies, received its 2013 Scholars on Site award.

Scholars on Site seeds research projects that involve collaboration between KU faculty members and community partners. The intent is to support collaborative research projects that mutually benefit community organizations and the university, and generate best practices in collaboration between humanities scholars and public partners. This award is part of the Hall Center’s 2011 Challenge Grant and was funded by the Friends of the Hall Center.

The goal of Scholars on Site is to demonstrate the positive impacts that academic knowledge can have on communities and the impact that community knowledge and experience can have on academic research. The result of the project is an equal partnership of academic humanities and public knowledge that strengthens both scholarship and communities.

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.

The American Yan Taru was established in the 1990s in Pittsburgh and soon grew into several branches across the country. Dylia Camara, the organization's national leader, is responsible for the creation of the curriculum used by Yan Taru women today. The Scholars on Site award will support the collaborative work that Mack and Camara will undertake. Together, the women will create a scholarly account of American Yan Taru, study and assess the current curricula, survey the efficacy of teaching and resulting community work, and study how the curriculum affects women's lives.

This formal assessment of Yan Taru practices will culminate in the establishment of a network among groups in the United States. Mack and Camara hope to have a national conference to talk about their work and the changing face of Yan Taru after meeting and working with individual groups.

The benefits of collaboration for both parties are significant. Mack will work intimately with the American branch of Yan Taru, learning from the groups what is working best and what the past can tell them about moving into a productive future. Working intimately with community partners allows Mack to better understand the needs and social welfare work of active American Yan Taru groups. In turn, Camara will consult Mack on her extensive knowledge and research on Nana Asma'u's life and works, as well as African Yan Taru practices. This research project will benefit the humanities by increasing understanding of Islam in America.  

Mack and Camara intend to produce an interactive website to facilitate communication among Yan Taru groups, as well as a site for posting both 19th century and contemporary digitized educational materials. After establishing these resources, the researchers plan to continue self-funded annual conferences to discuss Muslim women’s education and social welfare activities in America.

At its completion, the project will have established a method of “training women to train other women,” Mack said. “That is exactly what Asma’u intended when she established the Yan Taru model of women’s education.”

For information regarding the Scholars on Site Award, please contact Associate Director Sally Utech by email.


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