Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

PhD Student Profiles

Although George Mason University does not currently offer a Ph.D. program in Islamic Studies, members of the Ali Vural Ak Center core and affiliated faculty work closely with doctoral candidates in various departments researching subjects related to the study of Muslim societies and communities, who are featured here.


Susan Douglass

Douglass holds an MA in Arab studies from Georgetown University and a BA in history from the University of Rochester. She successfully defended her dissertation, Teaching about the World in Three Mass Education Systems: Britain, India and Egypt, 1950-1970, in Summer 2016. Read more about her research here.

She has worked with the Ali Vural Ak Center as the manager of several research projects, including grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Social Science Research Council. She has also served as a senior researcher for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations discourse and the Council on Islamic Education (currently the Center for Religion and Civic Values). She has also conducted educational outreach projgrams for the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.

She contributes to online teaching resources, including the, teaching guides for the Smithsonian Sackler and Freer Galleries, as well as researching and designing a website on the Indian Ocean in World History. She has taught courses in the history and education departments at Mason and the University of Virginia.


krKristin Hillers

Kristin Hillers is a Cultural Studies PhD student, currently developing her fields in Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East and Social Movements and Globalization. Her dissertation would attempt to focus on daesh, also known as ISIS in the United States, as a social movement. That is, how it operates, functions, and differs from other social movements in the Middle East, particularly in light of the Arab Spring. The dissertation would also analyze the movement's history, how it developed as well as its relationship to terrorism and politics in the Arab world, focusing specifically on the destabilization of both Iraq and Syria by internal and external factors. It would also discuss how daesh is a product of globalization while at the same time offering an alternative version of globalization. There would also be a chapter on those who convert to the group and how daesh perverts Islam and would highlight the differences between the historical time period that actually existed and the replication of that same period daesh hopes to create. Kristin has a B.A. in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies, and an M.A. in Humanities with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies. Her master's thesis examined utopian political philosophy and rhetoric in post-colonial Egypt, a paper she presented at MAPACA's annual conference in 2015.


Raja M. Ali Saleem

Raja M. Ali Saleem is a Ph.D. Candidate at George Mason University's School of Public Policy. He completed his master degree from Quaid-i-Azam University before joining the civil service of Pakistan. He served in the federal Ministry of Finance for seven years. He also holds master degrees in Development Administration and Business Administration from the University of Manchester and University of Calgary respectively. After resigning from public service, he worked as consultant to the Asian Development Bank, United Nations Development Program, and Canadian International Development Agency. He was awarded the MBA Entrance Scholarship by the University of Calgary. Since joining George Mason University, he has been selected to be a member of the Honor Society of International Studies four times.  
Raja’s dissertation is focused on explaining state Islamization in the Muslim-majority countries. State Islamization is usually linked with popular Islamist parties or authoritarian regimes. It is argued that Islamist parties Islamize the state to deliver on their promises to the people while authoritarian regimes Islamize the state to increase their legitimacy. However, both these reasons fail to explain the lack of state Islamization (beyond few constitutional clauses/laws) in most of the Muslim-majority countries. Raja’s working hypothesis is that religious nationalism is a necessary condition for state Islamization. His two case studies are Pakistan and Turkey.

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