Program on Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations 2013-14 Fellows Selected


The Program on Religion, Diplomacy and International Relations (PORDIR) has selected eighteen 2013-14 Fellows in Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations through a competitive application process. The fellows are: Ruwa Alhayek, Yasmin Dagne, Alex El-Fakir, Rupert Elderkin, Jesse Fleck, Alessandra L. González, Sharan Grewal, Tucker Jones, Jean Lee, Vanessa Mosoti, Mia Rifai, Candace Rondeaux, Pat Rounds, Brandon Scott, Jenna Spitzer, Ben Taub, Douglas Wallack, and Rachel Webb. As part of their fellowship, PORDIR fellows participate in weekly lunch seminars, conduct original research, and participate PORDIR's annual colloquium. The theme of this year's PORDIR program is Religion and Revolution.

Ruwa Alhayek is pursuing her undergraduate degree at Princeton University, studying Near Eastern Studies, Gender Studies and Creative Writing. She is an alumnus of AlGhazaly High School, and a Jordanian born American citizen. She blogs about women, Islamism, politics, Islam, Feminism, Globalisation, Literature, and Orientalism. She is the founder of the Redefining Feminism group of the Muslim Life Program at Princeton University. The first conference was held in early December 2012 and dealt with women in the Arab Spring, women as scholars, and women in traditional Islamic law. 

Yasmin Dagne: I am a senior from Silver Spring, MD in the Woodrow Wilson School pursuing a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture. I study African politics with a focus on East Africa, and last semester, I studied at the University of Cape Town. On campus, I am a member of the International Relations Council and of diSiac Dance Company. I am particularly interested in the role of social media in religion. Social media plays a transformative role in shaping relations within and across religions. Through social media the common man can challenge the religious establishment, conservative leaders can mask reactionism under the guise of technological progress and modernity, and nearly anyone with internet access can instantly reach a global audience. I hope to study these trends and their effect on diplomacy and international relations as a PORDIR fellow.

Alex El-Fakir is a junior in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs where he concentrates in Conflict and Cooperation and focuses on US grand strategy and diplomatic negotiation. He is a Student Fellow at the Center for International Security Studies (CISS), where he is designing the fall 2013 crisis simulation for Princeton undergraduates and West Point Military Academy cadets, and at the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination (LISD). He is also the founder of the Princeton Negotiation Seminar, President of the Princeton Chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society, and a board member of AEI on Campus. In addition to these positions, Alex worked for two summers at the American Enterprise Institute and participated in the US Army's annual strategy conference at the US Army War College. Outside of his academic pursuits, he is on the Princeton Club Croquet team, a member at Tower eating club, and a former singer for the Princeton Tigertones.

Rupert Elderkin is spending the 2013-14 academic year studying for a master’s degree in public policy (MPP) at the Woodrow Wilson School. Before coming to Princeton, he spent five months as a fellow in the transitional justice program at the Harvard Kennedy School's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. From 2006-2013 he worked for six years as a lawyer with the Office of the Prosecutor at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. During that time, he was a member of the trial team in the Popovic et al., Tolimir and Mladic cases, investigating and prosecuting Bosnian Serb military and police officials charged with crimes including the killings of over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys and forced removal of over 25,000 civilians from Srebrenica. Rupert has also worked as a lawyer in private practice in the United Kingdom and in Belgium. As an undergraduate, he studied philosophy, politics and economics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, then studied law in London.

Jesse Fleck is a junior in the Woodrow Wilson School. He is pursuing a certificate in Russian and Eurasian Studies. He has studied Russian in Saint Petersburg, Russia and interned as a journalist at Kyiv Post in Kiev, Ukraine. He is interested in territorial disputes in East Asian, Russia’s expansion into East Asia and bilateral relations between Russia and the United States. On campus, he is the clerk of the Honor Committee, the director of operations for the Alexander Hamilton Society and a chair of the Student events committee.

Alessandra L. González is 2013-14 William E. Simon Postdoctoral Research Associate in Religion and Public Life at the James Madison Program in the Department of Politics and a lecturer in Comparative Literature at Princeton University. Dr. González received her Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in Sociology from Baylor University and her B.A. in Sociology and Policy Studies from Rice University. Her dissertation was on Variations in the Sociology of Islam and Gender: A Multi-Level Analysis of Islam and Gender in Majority Muslim Contexts. She was a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at John Jay College, CUNY, and a research fellow at the Institute for the Studies of Religion at Baylor University. Her research interests include sociology of religion, politics, gender, and deviance in comparative contexts. Her latest book is Islamic Feminism in Kuwait: The Politics and Paradoxes (Palgrave Macmillan).

Sharan Grewal is a first year PhD student in the Department of Politics, where his research focuses on Islamist politics in the Middle East and North Africa. He graduated from Georgetown University with a Bachelor’s in International Politics in May 2013, and studied abroad at the American University in Cairo during the fall of 2011. He returned to Egypt in August 2012 to conduct interviews with members of the Muslim Brotherhood. His work has been published in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Aslan Media, and the World Justice Project, among other venues.

Tucker Jones is a sophomore at Princeton University. Before beginning his university career, he participated in Princeton's Bridge Year Program in Serbia. There he worked in several civil society organizations, lived with home-stay families, and learned about the language and culture of Serbia. After returning to the United States, Tucker has continued pursuing his interest in Southeast Europe. He has a radio show on WPRB, the campus station, and he's heavily involved in the International Relations Council and Model UN.

Jean Lee is a junior majoring in the Woodrow Wilson School with a focus on Cooperation and Conflict, and currently pursuing a certificate in East Asian Studies and Chinese language. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, but spent most of her recent years in Massachusetts. Besides English and Korean, she is proficient in Chinese and has studied Japanese and French. Her major academic interests include security in East Asia, rule of law and human rights issues across regions, and international diplomacy. On campus, she is involved with Princeton for North Korean Human Rights, Princeton Journal for East Asian Studies, and serves as a Writing Center Fellow and Orange Key Tour Guide.  She worked in the Constitutional Court of South Korea in the past summer, through which she developed a passion for constitutional law and international law. Currently, she is conducting research on the topic, “Advancing the rule of law in China: Is there a role for the U.S.?” with a specific focus on U.S. university-based centers’ collaborative projects with Chinese partners. She also participated in Princeton in Beijing program two summers ago, which sparked her interest in U.S. engagement with China and its implication to other neighboring countries. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in public law on the international stage and has a specific interest in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  Through PORDIR program, she hopes to learn more about how religion influences power politics and international conflict management. She is looking forward to discussing a wide range of interesting issues with other Fellows.

My name is Vanessa Mosoti and I'm a Woodrow Wilson School major focusing on economic development and human rights (with a special interest in East Africa), as well as a certificate candidate in the Program of French and Italian. I currently reside in New York City, but I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and I'm a native speaker of Kiswahili. I spent my Freshman and Sophomore Summers working in Manhattan's financial sector and touring South and South East Asia in order to study ethno-religious conflict, development, and civil society on the grassroots level. I one day hope to apply my education and experiences to issues relating to development, politics, and law.

Mia Rifai is currently a junior concentrating in the Woodrow Wilson school. She is focusing on Development and International Organizations and Governance while also pursuing a certificate in the Near Eastern Studies Department. She has focused on issues of democracy in countries including Turkey and Tunisia, as well as the issues behind the social compacts of the Levant region. She is the Director of Program of Princeton's American Whig-Cliosophic Society, a Fellow of the Carl. A Fields Center, former Director of Publications for the International Relations Council, and the co-founder and Secretary of The Princeton Arab Society.

Candace Rondeaux is senior analyst on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group in Kabul. A political analyst and writer with a background in international and legal affairs, she has written extensively about U.S. national security policy, military and political developments in South and Central Asia and the former Soviet Union. Her writing and analysis of foreign affairs has been regularly featured by Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations, The International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe and she has frequently been a guest analyst on CNN, al-Jazeera, BBC World and National Public Radio. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Rondeaux has for the last four years covered the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, producing several in-depth research reports on election developments, security sector reform and the state of the insurgency in Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group, a global think tank focused on conflict analysis and prevention. Before joining Crisis Group, she served as the Islamabad/Kabul bureau chief for The Washington Post. From 2000 to 2009, Rondeaux worked for as a journalist for several leading newspapers in the United States, covering criminal justice and legal affairs, reporting that garnered several honors including a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage awarded to a team of journalists at The Washington Post in 2007. In 2004, she traveled to Georgia and Azerbaijan under the auspices of a fellowship awarded by the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. After graduating with honors with a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University in 2002, she worked for several news outlets, including the Post,The St. Petersburg Times, The New York Daily News and The New York Observer. A recipient of several awards for her writing, Rondeaux’s work has also been published in The Village Voice, Vibe and The Russia Journal.

Pat Rounds is a Junior studying at the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs with a focus in Conflict and Cooperation.  His home state is Minnesota, but, as an army brat, he has lived in ten different places, including South Korea.  He currently lives in the Philadelphia area.  He is extremely interested in national intelligence and military affairs, and hopes to work with the government in some capacity in one of those fields.

Brandon Scott: Driving through central North Carolina one may pass through a really small town called Hobgood were I make up one of the 341 people who live there when I am not in Princeton. This is my second year at the University. While I am not quite sure what I would like to major in just yet I did find a strong interest in art at the end of my freshman year. Last spring I was apart of a seminar that looked at Orientalism in film and literature partly through the context of the book that Edward Said wrote on the subject. While he did make useful and critical observations about the Western interaction with the East I found that view he constructed seemed too stiff a binary; in particular I saw through art (namely painting, but also music and architecture) that there was much more of indeterminate dialogue occurring. Since then I have become interested in how people communicate through art, a visual vocabulary so to speak that serves a multiplicity of ends among interlocutors. I hope to continue to explore this topic with LISD.

Jenna Spitzer graduated from the Horace Mann School in 2012 and, after spending a gap year in India and Jordan, is now a member of the Princeton Class of 2017. While abroad, Jenna worked to empower young women through sport and play as a volunteer for Reclaim Childhood in Jordan and conducted research for Pasand, an organization hoping to increase an awareness of women’s health in India. As a student at Princeton, Jenna hopes to pursue international relations and environmental studies.

Ben Taub is an aspiring journalist studying philosophy at Princeton University.  A member of the Frontline Freelance Register, he has worked in the MENA region and Eastern Europe, and particularly focused on the Syrian refugee crisis in official, makeshift, and IDP camps in Jordan, Turkey, and northern Syria respectively.  He spent last summer living on the Turkish-Syrian border to examine how everyday life in a Turkish border town was affected by a war visible from the hotel window.

Douglas Wallack is a sophomore from Princeton Junction, NJ, concentrating in the Woodrow Wilson School.  Before beginning his studies at Princeton, he spent a year on the university’s Bridge Year Program working in a literacy non-profit organization in Varanasi, India – an epicenter of Hinduism in northern India.  Douglas is considering a career related to diplomacy, and his extracurricular interests include running long distance and writing music.

Rachel Webb is a senior at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs earning a certificate in Near Eastern Studies. Rachel is interested in using religion as a starting point for the analysis of international relations, particularly US foreign policy towards the Middle East.  Her past experiences include intensive Arabic study in Morocco and internships with a refugee resettlement agency, AMIDEAST Lebanon, and the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.


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. 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.