For their collaborative research which stretches half a world away and back again, Southern Utah University Provost Bradley Cook and Professor of Political Science Michael Stathis have been named winners of the 2013 Emerald Literati Network Award for Excellence. Their scholarly work, "Democracy and Islam: promises and perils for the Arab Spring protests," received the organization’s Outstanding Paper Award, chosen above thousands of other research papers focused on global citizenship, development and responsibility.
A compelling amalgamation of American democracy and the world of Islam, the paper explores challenges and opportunities facing the Muslim community as it moves toward a more democratic form of governance.
“It’s an honor to be recognized for our efforts,” said Cook. “This research is timely, highly relevant and asks interesting questions, unique for the field.”
Parallel research interests brought the scholarly duo together, each with a thorough background in Middle Eastern studies, international relations and political science. In the discursive essay, Cook and Stathis assert that while democracy and Islam both possess multiple and often compatible interpretations, their appropriate application hinges on the questions: “Whose Islam?”; “What Islam?”; “Whose democracy?”; “What democracy?”
“Contrary to previous assumptions, there’s no reason to think Islam and democracy have to be incompatible,” said Stathis. “That notion has been overstated.”
Believing there is much to learn from the two worlds’ uniquely complimentary ideologies, now brought together in a new and volatile landscape, Cook and Stathis seek to uncover what the relationship can do to inform faith-based and democratic processes in each venue though increased understanding. Cursorily explored but largely uncharted subject matter, little has been written about developments in the Muslim world that recent political upheaval and dissonance have incited.
The “Arab Spring,” as the movement has come to be called, has immeasurable significance, and as pivotal events unfold, Cook and Stathis aim to stay at the forefront of developments that will surely alter foreign relations, cultural relationships and global citizenship in a drastic way.
“We’re active observers in a game of political football,” said Cook. “How the ball bounces is still yet to be determined. It’s fascinating to watch how these important developments are transforming that part of the world.”
In the classroom, Stathis’ students have had much to gain from the research as well. In real time, they have witnessed the complexities and difficulties associated with the dismantling of authoritarian regimes that have endured for decades.
“It’s tragic, but academically exciting,” said Cook who, having lived in Egypt, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, has a very personal connection to the research. “These are places I have been to and know well. The relationships and friendships I have there have been a great motivator.”
In their paper, the authors conclude that, “there is no monolithic construal of Islam and politics and in fact, history actually provides hope that a more representative and democratic government might result from the uprisings, yielding healthier, progressive elements of Islam emerging in ways that were not before possible.”
“Our research continues the discussion of the relative relationship between Islam and democratic government,” said Stathis. “It attempts to provide a deeper understanding of the basic elements of the Arab Spring, helping us to more fully grasp what those efforts will mean for the future of the Middle East.”
In advance of receiving the Outstanding Paper Award, the essay was published in the Journal of Global Responsibility, a publication within the Emerald Literati Network."Democracy and Islam: promises and perils for the Arab Spring protests" is available for complimentary review from the Journal of Global Responsibility and will be featured as the homepage sample article for the next year.