Nahid Khan's research focuses on mainstream American newspaper coverage of American Muslims, and links together research in American journalism history and philosophy, American Muslim history, and sociology. Nahid discusses her role as the graduate assistant for the Shared Cultural Spaces: Islam and the West in the Arts and Sciences conference, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities through its program Building Bridges: The Muslim World and the Humanities.
Throughout graduate school I have been involved with community organizations, including helping establish a library, bookstore and reading room at the Islamic Center of Minnesota (ICM) and in past years, representing the ICM on the board of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition; serving on the board of Mizna, the Twin Cities-based Arab American arts organization; supporting a Muslim-Jewish women's interfaith dialogue group; guiding at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; and serving as head election judge for my voting precinct in Brooklyn Center. I have benefited greatly from interacting with people of diverse backgrounds, and was able to put these connections to good use as the graduate assistant for the Shared Cultural Spaces: Islam and the West in the Arts and Sciences conference in February 2011.
The National Endowment for the Humanities wanted to see a strong level of community outreach for a project leading to a larger public education program about the humanities. Our community networking involved the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Hennepin County Library, Mizna, the Africa Development Corporation of Minnesota, Sumunar Indonesian performing arts organization, and diverse members of the area's Muslim community through the ICM and Masjid an-Nur (Mosque of the Light), as well as members of local interfaith dialogue groups and peace and justice-oriented organizations.
The conference was well-attended by community members as well as by U of M students and faculty, with presentations on history, literature, science, architecture, art, media and contemporary issues in religion, and featuring U of M faculty and academics from around the United States. CLA Dean James Parente opened the conference to an overflow audience at the James Ford Bell Library, and Congressman Keith Ellison of the Fifth District of Minnesota, which includes the Minneapolis campuses of the U of M, closed the conference with remarks as the nation's first Muslim member of the U.S. House of Representatives .
The conference also featured a field trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for specially-organized guided tours that revealed influences upon and of the arts of Islam in the context of the sharedness of world art; three fully-booked performances of the play Journey, an adaptation of the 12th-century Arabic literary masterpiece, Hayy ibn Yaqzan, by Mohammad B. Ghaffari; a conference website, a 30-minute Twin Cities Public Television program that will broadcast five times annually for five years beginning in fall 2011; and pre- and post-conference workshops attended by 30 educators and representatives from community sponsors and other cultural organizations. More than 25 undergraduate students from across the College volunteered time and energy to assist with conference tasks; and we were featured in local news coverage, including the U of M alumni magazine, the Star Tribune, the Minnesota Daily, the MinnPost on-line news site, and the Art Matters program on KFAI-FM radio.
Through work on Shared Cultural Spaces, my interactions with so many people of diverse academic and community backgrounds gave me an opportunity to synthesize a variety of perspectives from numerous intellectual disciplines, professions and cultural networks. In a sense, it helped me reach a point of convergence as I think about my dissertation, my academic future, and the interdisciplinary work I would like to do to build bridges between academia and community.
Perhaps the most important insight I gained was in response to a question I had the privilege to ask of NEH chairman Jim Leach during a visit to the Twin Cities in October 2010, on the relationship between journalism and the humanities. He said that journalism's role in leading and shaping public discourse is what makes it a part of the humanities, which emphasizes overall the activity of reflection about the human condition. Immediately I thought of the statement that introduces the Program in Religious Studies: "Religion is a fundamental part of human experience and meaning. It informs all aspects of human society . . . The study of religion, as a result, ranges widely across human experience . . ." Yes, convergence indeed!