The Ali Vural Ak Center was awarded a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in a national competition of more than 100 applicants from institutions around the country. The center, along with seven other institutions, was chosen to host public forums designed to share the best of recent humanities research with the general public on the topic of the NEH Bridging Cultures initiative, designed to foster civil discourse among varied citizenries in the United States.
Partnering with the Viginia Foundation for the Humanities, the center convened a Scholars Forum titled "Beyond Golden Age and Decline: The Legacies of Muslim Societies in Global Modernity, 1300-1900" at Mason in March 2011. The forum hosted more than 30 national and international scholars of Islamic history and world history, inlcuding faculty and researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, Harvard University, Brown University, Georgetown University, the University of Virginia, the Univeristy of Edinburgh, and the American University in Cairo. They shared recent work and interdisciplinary ideas in the fields of Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal studies and world history.
The scholars confronted commonly accepted readings of Islamic history between the 14th and 20th centuries, an era described as one of general decline for Muslim societies in contrast to the preceding Islamic Golden Age. Focusing on the history of Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires, speakers brought to light recent scholarship on this misunderstood era in Muslim history and debunked widely perpetuated myths within academia and among the public. A public web page, http://www.muslimmodernities.org/, was designed specially for this conference, where detailed information about participating scholars and paper presentations are available.
Following the forum, a two-day Program Development Workshop was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, hosting educators from state and regional public schools, museum professionals from the Newseum and Virginia Association of Museums, filmmakers, and other practitioners. The group developed strategies for disseminating knowledge from the forum through public programs. The workshop was held in parallel with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Festival of the Book, the largest event of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region, and featured panels by forum participants with recent books on contemporary Muslim issues.