Jacob Imam, a senior University Scholar at Baylor, has been selected as one of 32 American students--and the only student from a Texas university--to receive the prestigious 2016 Marshall Scholarship.
The award allows Imam to fund his studies at Oxford University, where he will seek a master in philosophy in Islamic studies and history. Imam is from Redmond, WA, where he graduated from The Bear Creek School.
"Jacob is a young man of immense talent and noble goals, all focused on fostering religious liberty and mutual understanding across seemingly intractable cultural barriers in the Middle East," Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr said. "Jacob's ambitious and admirable goals will be reached only by receiving the finest training possible at the graduate level. With that education, he will begin a life of service in pursuit of reconciliation and restoration among diverse faiths. The world needs next-generation leaders like Jacob is poised to become--those who can provide guidance and wisdom in an evolving global culture."
The Marshall Scholarship was established in 1953 to express British gratitude for the European Recovery Program after World War II. Long regarded as one of the highest accolades and won through rigorous national competition, the Marshall Scholarship covers the scholar's tuition costs, books, travel and living expenses while in the United Kingdom.
Imam's background in languages includes spoken Arabic, Classical and Ecclesiastical Latin, Greek and Ancient Hebrew. He is completing an Honors thesis and has a forthcoming scholarly publication with additional articles under revision or review. He has held summer research internships at the Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies at Oxford and at Tyndal House at Cambridge.
At Baylor, Imam is the founder of Convivium, an undergraduate lecture and conversation series focused on students coming together to hear outstanding scholars speak on wide-ranging topics and then engaging them in vigorous debate of the issues. He also has served political and religious refugees in the Middle East through non-profits in Israel and recently represented Baylor undergraduates at a summit on global religious liberty co-hosted by Baylor in Washington, D.C., in advance of Pope Francis' visit to the United States in September.
After he earns his master's degree at Oxford, Imam said he plans to serve Syrian refugees for a year in Jordan and then earn a master's in Jewish studies from Hebrew University.
"(Syrian) refugees in particular have been dislodged from their land by a group that claims the same religion as they do,"Imam said. "They may not understand what Islam is unless they have a proper historical outlook on what it once was. In my position of creating curriculum it will be necessary to engage these students with their own historical and religious narrative.
"Though not displaced any longer from their homeland, the Jewish people are experiencing increasing hostility in the West--indeed similar trends as those of western Muslims," he said. "As anti-Semitism is on the rise, my religious understanding cannot be limited to only Christianity and Islam. In order that I might one day be able to stimulate cooperation amongst Christians, Muslims and Jews alike, I must have a robust understanding of the Jewish paradigm."
Imam plans to return to the United Kingdom to complete a PhD in comparative religions. He hopes to become a scholar who enhances interreligious cooperation among all faiths. Eventually, Imam hopes to work within an academic setting and expand educational developments in the Middle East, specifically in the West Bank.
He studied under several Baylor professors, including Dr. Alden Smith, Dr. Jeff Fish and Dr. Ralph Wood, as well as faculty at Oxford, where Imam studied during the spring 2015 semester. Smith, a professor and interim chair of classics, serves as Imam’s primary adviser in the University Scholars program. He considers Imam among the best students he has ever taught and mentored.
"Jacob's interest in the classics and in other areas of study, such as great texts, religion and theology, is not limited to textual analysis qua a richer understanding of the texts through exegesis. Rather, Jacob seeks to read texts to apply them to real-world situations," said Smith, who also serves as associate dean of the Honors College, associate director of the University Scholars program and Master Teacher. "Thus, his thesis involves a cross comparison of ancient narratives that occur in the Old Testament, New Testament and the Quran. His comparative analysis does not simply point out differences; it also seeks to find commonality and promote dialogue, dialogue needed at this juncture in history perhaps more than ever before."
Imam said, "Education is primarily about forming people to understand how life might be made more human. My Baylor professors have cultivated in me a greater awareness of true humanity, as seen in the person of Christ, and thus have formed my whole person, not only the life of the mind."
Imam is the third Baylor student selected as a Marshall Scholar since 2001. Cinnamon Gilbreath, BA '98, won the Marshall in 2001 and Jamie Gianoutsos, BA '06, received the Marshall in 2006.