Former African Studies Director, Steve Howard, is getting ready to travel to Northeast Africa where he will serve as the first and, for this year, the only Fulbright U.S. Scholar in Sudan in more than 20 years.
Steve Howard, a professor in the Scripps College of Communication’s School of Media Arts and Studies, will be spending up to 10 months in Sudan as part of the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. The program offers opportunities for American faculty members and professors to conduct research, lecture and/or consult with other scholars and institutions abroad – all as a means of fostering mutual understanding between U.S. citizens and their global peers.
The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in Sudan was suspended in 1992 when years of war and human rights abuses, coupled with its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, resulted in the U.S. government issuing an embargo on relations with the country. The program was reinstated this past December.
“International collaboration and partnership is a foundational value of both the Fulbright program and Ohio University,” said President M. Duane Nellis. “I am so proud that Dr. Howard will represent OHIO on this historic transformative learning experience and am excited by the value proposition for our students, ultimately, through this opportunity.”
“I was delighted and quite shocked,” Dr. Howard said about receiving notice that he had been awarded the Fulbright and hearing from the U.S. Embassy in Sudan that he would be the only Fulbright U.S. Scholar in Sudan this year. “I was delighted when I found out that they were sending Fulbrights back to Sudan and excited to be a part of the program’s return there.”
As part of his Fulbright award, Dr. Howard will be teaching at Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman, Sudan – a private university that he has visited many times and spoken at but never taught.
“I think the president of that university is a hero,” Dr. Howard said of President Gasim Badri. “He works so hard to find financial aid for every woman who wants to attend and can’t find the money, and he stands up to the government in trying to make sure that the campus is a center for free speech and that people are free to study what they want.”
When Dr. Howard isn’t teaching, he plans to recharge his African research interests and continue the work he has started on his latest book, which explores parents’ efforts to shield their children from Islamic extremist views. The book follows Dr. Howard’s “Modern Muslims: A Sudan Memoir,” a book released this past October and published by the Ohio University Press. The memoir documents the three years Dr. Howard spent living in Sudan in the early 1980s with the Republican Brotherhood, the Sufi Muslim group led by the visionary Mahmoud Mohamed Taha. In addition to sharing Dr. Howard’s journey to learning about Islam, Sufism and Sudan’s history and culture, the book offers the scholar’s perspective on a modern-day progressive Islamic social reform movement.
Dr. Howard’s latest trip to Sudan marks a milestone in a 35-year career that has seen his scholarly efforts devoted to studying and teaching about Africa and, more specifically, Sudan and his fourth Fulbright award.
It was on his first trip to Sudan – as an American graduate student conducting dissertation research on a Fulbright award – that Dr. Howard said he “fell in love with the place in every way.”
“It was difficult,” Dr. Howard said of the first three years he spent in the country, “but it was very endearing.”
Dr. Howard returned to Sudan in the late 1980s on another two-year Fulbright award in which he served as a visiting professor. He has visited the country a few times in the past 15 years, most recently in 2011 on the heels of South Sudan becoming an independent nation.
“A third of the country – and it used to be Africa’s biggest country – separated into a new country,” Dr. Howard said of that trip. “To see these new maps all over the capital, it looked like someone literally tore a piece from the bottom of the country. … I understand every reason for it, but the result in South Sudan has been an endless mess of strife and death and turmoil and starvation and war, so independence doesn’t seem to have helped anything there.”
Dr. Howard said he sees his upcoming work in Sudan as a means of trying to understand the country and then to help his fellow Americans understand it as well.
“I hope to get a new understanding of a country that’s been through an enormous amount of strife,” he said. “The United States is largely responsible for funding and politically sponsoring the separation of North and South Sudan, so I think we have a responsibility to try and understand the place, too.”
“Dr. Howard has provided decades of leadership with respect to our engagement with African nations, both for the Scripps College and for the University,” said Scott Titsworth, dean of the Scripps College of Communication. “There are few scholars who are better equipped to assist in re-launching the Fulbright program in Sudan. I am excited that Dr. Howard will represent our University as he forges new relationships at Ahfad University for Women and with others in Sudan.”
“I love the people of Sudan, and that’s what my scholarly life has been dedicated to,” Dr. Howard said. “It’s a really challenging place, but it’s given me a lot to think about, and I’ve enjoyed trying to explain it to my students and to reading audiences. It’s been very gratifying in many ways.”
Dr. Howard’s grant was made possible by the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which sponsors the Fulbright Program.
Congratulations, Dr. Howard.
This post was first published on OHIO Compass