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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Religion Professor Receives Prestigious Mellon Grant

<u don’t have to go far in Carleton’s religion department to hear unabashed praise for Professor Noah Salomon.

Salomon is a scholar of Sunni Islam, a former member of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), a grant recipient from Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Islam Research Programme (Netherlands), and the author of For Love of the Prophet: An Ethnography of Sudan’s Islamic State, which won the 2017 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in Analytical-Descriptive Studies from the American Academy of Religion as well as the 2017 Albert Hourani Prize from the Middle East Studies Association. However, his most recent accolade, the Mellon New Directions Fellowship, marks a change of course for Salomon.

“The New Directions Fellowship is different from other kinds of research grants in that it’s designed to help the faculty member kind of change directions in their research,” said Christopher Tassava, Carleton’s associate director of corporate and foundation relations who helps faculty like Salomon apply for fellowships, grants and funding for different programs.

“So you often see a humanist who wants to acquire some kind of scientific expertise, let’s say, or someone who knows Spanish and English wants to acquire Italian so in the next phase of their career they can do something different,” said Tassava.

For Salomon, the stars were aligned for the Mellon New Directions Fellowship. He fit into the range between acquiring a PhD and obtaining tenure, the timeline of the fellowship matched with his schedule and he has wanted to gain greater expertise in Shi’ite Islam and the Persian language (Farsi) for a long time.

On his goals with the fellowship, Salomon said, “I hope to do this both through academic work stateside, and through working with Shi’i communities in countries abroad, though exactly which countries, I am not certain at this time. I also hope to get a handle on some of the ways in which sectarianism has been conceived, naturalized, and transcended by studying a range of discourses in Arabic and Persian that seek to conceptualize religious difference.”

Salomon is the third Carleton professor to receive the Mellon New Directions Fellowship, and the third Carleton professor to apply. Institutions like Carleton can only nominate professors if the institution is invited to apply in a given year. Thus far, the recipients of the fellowship have always been in Carleton’s Religion department.
In terms of the reasons why the recipients have yet to bridge the gap beyond the religion department, Tassava was unsure but said it speaks highly of the religion department and of the faculty at Carleton.

“Carleton faculty are ranked by their peers as the best teachers in the country at liberal arts colleges,” he said. “And for somebody in an organization like Mellon to validate that with a grant is great—it’s external proof that it’s true. But there are lots of other ways that our faculty members are excellent, too.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which awards the New Directions Fellowship, is focused on the liberal arts. The foundation strives to ensure that the liberal arts are supplied with faculty who are teaching innovative, cutting-edge material that interests both students and the faculty themselves, as well as being relevant to the world around them. The foundation awards various grants to liberal arts professors and schools like Carleton; however, the New Directions Fellowship is unique in that it last multiple years and can provide up to $300,000 in funding, making it one of the largest humanities grants in the United States.

“But grants aren’t the only proof that you’re a good professor,” added Tassava. “Sometimes it’s writing books, it might be developing a new course or revamping the whole departmental curriculum. There’s constant innovation and grants are just one way which that happens.”

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