Meet Carnegie Fellow Mark Fathi Massoud

Continuing its longstanding investment in scholarly research, the Carnegie Corporation of New York established the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program in 2015 to provide a major boost to the social sciences and humanities. Each year, the Corporation provides more than 30 of the country’s most creative thinkers with major grants to support research on challenges to democracy and international order.

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Mark Fathi Massoud is Associate Professor in the Politics Department and Legal Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Massoud is a member of the American Political Science Association and has received APSA’s Corwin Award for best dissertation in public law and the Honorable Mention Award for APSA’s Pritchett Prize for best book in law and courts. He was recently named to the 2016 class of Andrew Carnegie Fellows and sat down with PSNow for a conversation about his work.

How has the Carnegie Fellows Program impacted your research and overall career?

Massoud: The Carnegie Fellowship provides time for research and writing, and time is among a scholar’s most valuable resources. What’s encouraging about the Carnegie Fellowship is its direct investment in the humanities and social sciences — particularly given that grants for research in political science and, more recently, for fieldwork overseas have been under threat.

Also, Carnegie Fellows are placed into a new and diverse network of scholars who are thinking creatively about challenges to US democracy and international order and about theoretical, methodological, and policy innovation in their work. My hope is to integrate my efforts from this fellowship into the research and teaching I do throughout my career.

What topics in research do you primarily focus on? How can people access your work?

Massoud: My research focuses on law and society in conflict settings and authoritarian states, and on Islamic law and society. My first book, Law’s Fragile State: Colonial, Authoritarian, and Humanitarian Legacies in Sudan, traces how colonial administrators, post-colonial governments, and the international aid community each used law to build stability amid political violence and civil war in Sudan. I have extended this research in two new directions, by explaining how international NGOs build law in war-torn environments, and by investigating the rule of law as a set of ideals and a set of practices. My next book will document a history of Islamic law and human rights in greater Somalia. Together, this work reveals the different ways that law, including Islamic law, matters in the most troubled regions of the world, and how scholars study the rule of law in those places.

I am also principal investigator (with Kathleen M. Moore) of Shari’a Revoiced: Documenting American Muslims’ Experiences of Islamic Law. Drawing on qualitative interviews and ethnographic research with diverse Muslim communities across California, Shari’a Revoiced investigates the place of Islamic law in the lives of American Muslims. Our recent article, “Rethinking Shari’a,” gives a historical and ethnographic account of Islam in California through the lens of three composite characters.

By documenting efforts to build human rights across time periods in these diverse contexts from East Africa to California, I have sought to understand how law and religion matter, and how they fail to matter, in social and political life.

What would be one piece of advice you would give aspiring social science and humanities students?

Massoud: I tell my students to ask themselves: “What is the change that you want to see in the world, and how can you be part of it?” For aspiring social science and humanities students seeking to make the world or their communities a better place to live, it means focusing for now on learning in order to think critically and analytically; on being humble and accepting your limits; and on working hard while being good to the people you love. This is also the same advice I would give to junior scholars and faculty.

Read more here about Mark Fathi Massoud’s work.