By George Mauzy
Director of African Studies Steve Howard was leafing through "Democracy Matters" several years ago when he came across several eye-catching passages.
In his book, University of Princeton professor Cornel West wrote that he admires Sudanese teacher and Islamic reformer Mahmoud Mohamed Taha's teachings about Islamic democratization. West also complimented Taha as an advocate for peace and freedom. As an active member of Taha's progressive Islamic movement, Howard said he was surprised by those words because West is known as a devout Christian.
"He typically writes about African-American social issues, so that's why I was startled that he wrote about Mahmoud Mohamed Taha in his book,'' Howard said. "Since that time, I have been trying to get him to speak on campus and this year I was successful."
As part of the "100 Years of Progressive Islam: Honoring the Life of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, 1909-2009" conference at Ohio University, West will deliver the keynote address at noon, Sunday, Jan. 18 in the Baker University Center Ballroom. The talk, which is free, is co-sponsored by the Department of African American Studies and the College of Arts and Sciences.
"My hope is that Dr. West helps people understand that Islam is not all about terrorism and that it has produced some religious leaders who are great thinkers and worthy of honor," Howard said. "Islam has some universal messages that anyone can agree with."
After teaching at Princeton University from 1988 to 1993, West returned to the university in 2002 as the Class of 1943 University Professor in the Center for African American Studies. He also has taught at Harvard University, Yale Divinity School, University of Paris and Union Theological Seminary. He earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1973 and his master's and doctoral degrees from Princeton in 1975 and 1980, respectively.
"Dr. West appeals to both general and scholarly audiences because he manages to bring his research to the community," said Robin Dearmon, assistant professor of African American Studies. "The core of all African American studies departments is to make their scholarship relevant to community issues and he does that well."
Ghirmai Negash, assistant professor of English and African literature, described West as a unique intellectual who crosses the borders of literature, philosophy, religion, history and hip-hop.
"He's a combination of several things that are both interesting and exciting," Negash said. "He is a profound thinker who reflects on the human condition and conceptualizes where humanity is. He always brings a message of optimism and inspiration.''
Including his latest book, "Hope on a Tightrope," and best-selling books "Race Matters" and "Democracy Matters," West has published more than 18 books and edited more than 13 textbooks. He has been awarded more than 20 honorary degrees and is a frequent guest on national TV and radio shows.
"100 Years of Progressive Islam: Honoring the Life of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, 1909-2009" will take place Jan. 17-18 and also will feature a Saturday keynote address from Asma Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, daughter of the late teacher.
For more information about the conference, visit www.african.ohio.edu/Conferences/.