Program on Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations 2012-13 Fellows Selected

The Program on Religion, Diplomacy and International Relations (PORDIR) has selected sixteen 2012-13 Fellows in Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations through a competitive application process. The fellows are: Usaama al-Azami, Saud Al-Thani, Hagar Barak, Stephanie Char, Maria-Magdalena Fuchs, Lelabari Giwa-Ojuri, Launa Greer, Eric Hagstrom, Katie Manbachi, Edgar Melgar, Nadirah Mansour, Sarah Ray, Adriana Rexon, David Weil, Allegra Wiprud, and Mengyi Xu. As part of their fellowship, PORDIR fellows participate in weekly lunch seminars, conduct original research, and participate PORDIR's annual colloquium.

About the Fellows:

Usaama al-Azami is a PhD candidate at Princeton University's Department of Near Eastern Studies where he is currently writing a dissertation on the place of reason in Islamic legal theory. He began studying Arabic in France in 2002, and went on to complete a BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Oxford University in 2008. For a period at Oxford, he was the head of the Oxford University Islamic Society, and at Princeton, he leads the Graduate Muslim Student Association. Usaama was born and raised in the UK, but has spent many years living and studying elsewhere, most notably, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and his parent's native Bangladesh. He is keenly interested in the interplay between religion and politics in the Western and Muslim worlds and the discourses surrounding it.

Saud Al-Thani is an undergraduate in the Department of Near-Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Saud is a Student Associate at LISD and is part of the LISD fellowship this year as well as the Princeton University Religious Life Council. He is a senior in the Near Eastern Studies Department, pursuing certificates in Judaic Studies, Arabic Language and Culture, and the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication offered by the Department of Comparative Literature. He is fluent in Arabic and English, and conversational in French and Hebrew. His interests include the academic study of Islamic Mysticism of the 11th century, and the intersections between Judaism and Islam. Saud has worked for the Qatar Museums Authority.

Hagar Barak is a sixth year graduate student in the history department, specializing in administrative medieval history.

Stephanie Char is a junior majoring in the Woodrow Wilson School and currently pursuing a certificate in East Asian Studies. She was born in California but grew up in Seoul, South Korea, where she lived before coming to Princeton. Besides English and Korean, she has also studied Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Her primary academic interests include international institutions and diplomacy, security in East Asia, and cultural and technological trends across regions. On campus, she is involved with the Korean American Student Association Political Board, the Writing Center, and the Princeton Debate Panel, and is looking forward to discussing a broad spectrum of issues with other Fellows.

Maria-Magdalena Fuchs is a first-year graduate student at Princeton's Department of Religion where her research focuses on religious conversion and the intellectual history of twentieth-century Punjab, a region split between Pakistan and India. Maria received her Bachelor’s Degree in Islamic Studies from the Free University of Berlin in 2010. She then studied for an MSt in Global and Imperial History with a focus on South Asia at Balliol College, Oxford. Between 2011 and 2012, Maria also spent seven months on fieldwork and language studies in Pakistan, during which time she founded a charity which supports a home for disabled adults in Lahore. In her free time, Maria enjoys music from the Indian Subcontinent, German poetry, and Scandinavian cinema.

Lelabari Giwa-Ojuri is a junior in the Politics Department. Before attending Princeton, she participated in the Princeton Bridge Year Program in Serbia. During her time abroad, she worked with local NGOS on youth HIV/AIDS education and outreach and the support and leadership development of Roma (Gypsy) youth. On campus she is on the women’s rugby team, a Chapel Deacon and a part of the University Chapel Fellowship. Additionally she is the co-founder and President of the Princeton Equality Project, an LGBT student activism group, and an LGBT Peer Educator. She has interned at an LGBT human rights organization in Belgrade, Serbia. Last summer, she studied Arabic in Jordan and attended the Office of Religious Life’s program on Interfaith Peacebuilding in the Former Yugoslavia.

Launa Greer is a junior from Cleveland, Ohio, concentrating in Religion. She is excited to join the PORDIR community and enrich her understanding of the role religion can play in promoting peace and international development. She is specifically interested in studying how theologians have interpreted sacred texts to address issues of violence, pluralism, and civic responsibility throughout history, and after taking a summer class in Jerusalem, how religion shapes national and civic identities. Launa currently writes for American Foreign Policy magazine and is an active member of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program and Legacy Christian Fellowship.

Eric Hagstrom is an undergraduate senior in the Near Eastern Studies Department.  He has taken great classes in his department such as The Politics of Modern Islam, War and Politics in the Modern Middle East, and Pop Culture in the Middle East.  His independent work includes Junior papers titled “Nouri al-Maliki and the Increasing Sectarianism of Iraq’s Government” and “Islamic Finance: Overzealous Islamist Interpretations of God’s Law,” as well as a senior thesis in the works that will attempt to gauge reporting bias by Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya and what it means for regional politics.  He is planning to accept a job offer for after graduation with McKinsey and Company's Abu Dhabi office.

Katie Manbachi is a Master's candidate in Princeton's Department of Near Eastern Studies who focuses on modern Iran and Shia transnational clerical networks. Her thesis will explore the evolution of Ayatollah Montazeri's political thought and analyze the impact his works had on modern Iranian civil society.

Nadirah Mansour is a junior in the Near Eastern Studies department, studying  Islamic intellectual history with a focus on the Middle East and East Africa. Her fall JP focuses on antisemitism in Islamist rhetoric and she is considering writing her second on Islamic education in Tanzania in relation to faith relations. She is also involved with various interfaith dialogue initiatives on campus, most recently the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue group.

Edgar Melgar is a first year PhD student in Near Eastern Studies, focusing on Ottoman and Turkish history. His main areas of interest include legal reforms aimed at the establishment of constitutional regimes, and the response of religious minorities to secularized systems of governance, in the late Ottoman Empire. Prior to Princeton, Edgar completed an MA in Latin American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and a BA in Comparative Literature at Yale University.

Sarah Ray is a graduate student at the Woodrow Wilson School, studying Domestic Policy and Urban Policy and Planning. Sarah came to Princeton as a Scholars in the Nation's Service Initiative (SINSI) Fellow, funded to work in federal government for two years during her graduate studies. Sarah's SINSI fellowship began in the Secretary's Office of  the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, where she was on the leadership team for the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. Sarah was then selected to serve as Team Lead for the White House Domestic Policy Council Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative, through which she was based in City Hall in her hometown of Memphis, TN, and advised the Mayor on capacity building, strategic planning, and economic development. She finished her fellowship at the US Department of Education in the Office of Innovation and Improvement. Before graduate school, Sarah worked at the US Department of Health and Human Services and at City Hall in post-Katrina New Orleans. Sarah's community involvement includes serving on the Board of Directors for Community LIFT in Memphis, TN, and volunteer work and pro bono consulting with the Greater Donnelly Initiative in Trenton, NJ. Though much of Sarah's professional and academic career has focused on policy within the US, she is interested in urbanization globally and how cities participate in international relations. Her specific interest in the PORDIR fellowship stemmed from a desire to understand how religion has affected urban development and how religion shapes the response to issues of urban social problems. Sarah has lived in Spain and will focus much of her research on comparing the US and the EU.

Adriana Rexon ’14 is from Norwalk, Connecticut, and is a Near Eastern Studies major. As an active participant in Jewish life on campus, which includes holding a position on the Center for Jewish Life Shabbat Policy Committee and singing with Princeton’s Jewish a cappella group Koleinu, she is interested in the promotion of cohesive pluralism within a single religion, such as Judaism or Islam, as well as inter-religious dialogue. Academically, she is involved with research in Middle Eastern politics, and the integration of religious and ethnic minorities into various types of Islamic government. Her current junior paper deals with comparative Kurdish politics in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, while her research with PORDIR examines the development of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

David Weil grew up in Virginia and Texas, attending public schools before matriculating to Yale, where he majored in the Humanities. After graduating, he worked in Washington, DC for a member of the House of Representatives, where his portfolio focused on foreign affairs and defense. After a summer of intensive Turkish at Boğaziçi University, he began his PhD in the Near Eastern Studies Department at Princeton in Fall 2011. His dissertation will consist of a comparative history of modern Turkey and Pakistan, examining historical ties between these countries in the first half of the twentieth century. He is proficient in French and Turkish, and is working on Urdu.

Allegra Wiprud is a junior in the Wilson School from Brooklyn, New York. At Princeton, she is studying religion in public life, civil society, and post-crisis reconstruction. Allegra serves as President of Princeton Hindu Satsangam and an active member of the Religious Life Council and other faith-based initiatives on campus. She is also a classical vocalist and a music minor.

Mengyi Xu is currently a junior in the Woodrow Wilson School, pursuing certificates in Global Health and Health Policy and Translation and Intercultural Communication. She was born in Xi'an, China (the city of the terra cotta soldiers), and grew up in Paris. Her own multicultural experience and exposure to people from diverse background have instilled in her a strong interest in the role of cultural interactions in diplomacy. Mengyi is fluent in English, Mandarin Chinese and French, and conversational in Arabic, Spanish and Russian. She hopes to deepen her understanding of how religious beliefs inform and influence diplomatic decisions through this fellowship. On campus, Mengyi is the president of Princeton University Language Project and Speak with Style. She also serves as the undergraduate co-chair of the Program in Law and Public Affairs (LAPA) and Butler College Council. In her free time, she really enjoys giving campus tours and tours at the University Art museum.


Established in 2007, the Program on Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations offers students and faculty at Princeton University the opportunity to study, reflect, and generate ideas and publications concerning the multiple intersections of religion, diplomacy and international relations. PORDIR aims to explore the influence of religion and religious beliefs in the conduct of international relations, diplomacy and politics; facilitate discussions about religion and international relations in a neutral, non-ideological forum; encourage interdisciplinary, inter-generational, international and interreligious exchanges among students, scholars and policy practitioners; and promotes research, teaching and publication relating to religion and international relations.

A key component of PORDIR is the opportunity for a cohort of undergraduate and graduate students – representing a range of religious, academic and ideological perspectives – to participate as Fellows in Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations. Fellows conduct research projects, participate in weekly lunch seminars, and present their independent research at an end of the semester event. The objective of these weekly seminars is to facilitate a scholarly environment that provides academic guidance, opportunities for peer-to-peer critique and encourages an interdisciplinary approach to the broad topics of religion, diplomacy, and international relations. These seminars provide fellows access to visiting researchers, political figures, and religious leaders who visit the weekly sessions as guest speakers. The sessions are a unique opportunity for fellows to voice their opinions, test hypothesizes, and learn from a diverse array of people. Past PORDIR fellows have come from a variety of departments and programs, bringing their specific academic backgrounds and interdisciplinary methodologies to bear on key issues related to religion, diplomacy, and international relations.

Independent research is the cornerstone of the PORDIR program, through the course of which students take advantage of the academic resources available to them. Fellows are expected to pursue independent, academically rigorous research throughout the term of the fellowship and to present their final article-length research papers (max 15 pages). In previous years, PORDIR fellows have submitted their research papers for publication, have used their research as a basis for future thesis and dissertation work, and have utilized their research through the course of internships at such places as the UN, State Department, and a variety of international NGOs. Past research papers have engaged such topics as Christian and Islamic Theories of Just War, Development and Religion; Human Rights in Islam; Taxes and Religion; The Politics of Sainthood; Religious Communities and Prevention of HIV in Africa; and Crisis Diplomacy and Religion.