Laurie Brand, director of the USC School of International Relations, has been named a 2008 Carnegie Scholar, the Carnegie Corp. of New York announced April 4.
One of only 20 academics to receive the award, Brand will use the prestigious two-year grant to pursue a research project about the relationship between post-colonial Middle Eastern states and Islam.
"We congratulate Laurie on this signal recognition, and we also congratulate the Carnegie Corp. on making a great choice," said USC College Dean Howard Gillman. "Laurie is an incisive, insightful mind, and she's producing top-notch scholarship that helps us better understand our rapidly changing world."
The Carnegie Scholars Program began in 1999, and for the fourth consecutive year, it focuses on Islam.
Said Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corp.: "We are cultivating a diverse scholarly community spanning a range of disciplines with the expectation that their voices will help Americans develop a more complex understanding of Muslim societies here and throughout the world – revealing Islam's rich diversity. Only through vibrant dialogue, guided by bold and nuanced scholarship, can we move public thinking into new territory."
A member of USC's faculty since 1989, Brand is an expert on Middle East international relations and inter-Arab politics. She is past president of the Middle East Studies Association and currently serves as chair of its Committee on Academic Freedom. She is a four-time Fulbright Scholar and was given USC College's highest honor, the Raubenheimer Award, in 2002.
Her Carnegie-winning project, "Islam v. Nationalism in Arab Post-Independence Narratives," began with Brand's interest in the "stories" that states tell about themselves.
In the post-World War I period, most of the Middle East was under some form of European control. In response, the anti-colonial programs that emerged generally were based in both incipient nationalism and Islam. Indeed, some of the most influential leaders in the struggle for independence were religious scholars and writers, said Brand.
Yet for decades following independence, many Arab regimes, while not denying their religious heritage and culture, nonetheless relegated Islam to at best a secondary place in their political programs.
"I want to understand better how this relationship between religion and nationalism evolved," Brand said, "and particularly how, in some key states, the secular nationalist idiom initially became the predominant one."
Brand's research will examine official histories, or national narratives – using official government statements and school textbooks as primary source material.
"If you want to understand what any given regime wants its population to understand, the best place to go is to the textbooks," she said. "That's what children are studying. Those are the officially sanctioned stories of the nation, its past and its identity."
The project is expected to yield a book, a number of journal articles and conference papers, and an upper-division course at the School of International Relations. The Carnegie grant will support a sabbatical for Brand during the 2009-10 academic year as well as funding for supplies and travel.
Brand will focus on four states – Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon – in order to provide some sense of the variety among Middle Eastern countries.
"There's too often a perception outside of the Middle East of a monolithic, undifferentiated Arab or Islamic world," she said. "The generosity of Carnegie's grant, enabling me to do a multi-country study, will allow me to be a more effective part of a conversation that looks at the tremendous diversity across the region. My hope is that such an exploration of that diversity will contribute to a better, more nuanced understanding of the Arab world here in the U.S., where today it is so obviously and critically needed. "