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Presidential International Scholar prepares to depart

Friday, September 16, 2005

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College senior Russ Sandifer departs Monday on the trip of a lifetime, visiting the classroom of the world.

The Columbia, S.C., student is the college’s 21st Presidential International Scholar. As such, he will travel throughout this academic year doing independent research, searching for “a foundation in the Quran and the Islamic experience for what (author and college professor) Abdulaziz Sachedina terms the ‘Islamic roots of democratic pluralism.’

“This is the first and most significant priority of the project,” says Sandifer, a physics and French major. “A broad investigation into the various judgments and interpretations of the Quran and the Islamic tradition should determine whether or not these ‘roots’ actually exist.”

The subsequent objective of his research is two-staged, he says, “if the Islamic roots of democratic pluralism do indeed exist. The first stage is to determine the conditions under which democracy has blossomed or has been choked out, historically. The second stage is to hypothesize what circumstances are needed for future democratization in the Islamic world based on the data.”

Sandifer will visit government officials, officials with non-government organizations, academics and others as he travels to Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Turkmenistan and Indonesia. He leaves on Monday and is expected to return in May 2006.

In preparing for his travels and research, he has spent the summer reading texts suggested by his advisor, Dr. William E. DeMars, chair of the department of government. Among those are works by Sachedina, author of “Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism” and “Human Rights and the Conflict of Cultures: Western and Islamic Perspectives on Religious Liberty.” The professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia visited the Wofford campus last year.

“I also will look at how the introduction of religious pluralism into an Islamic culture has or will affect religious minorities as well as the religious majority,” Sandifer says. “An important question in this investigation is whether religious institutions flourish or suffer under a state religious authority.”

The Presidential International Scholar is selected each year by Wofford President Benjamin B. Dunlap, selected as the “singular student best fitted to benefit mankind.” The scholarship is funded by an anonymous donor.

“This is an incredible experience for anyone to travel the world just to see that everything isn’t the American way,” says Sandifer. “I’m looking forward to maturing and learning about places that are different.”

A Wofford soccer player, Sandifer plans to travel with his soccer cleats and perhaps a soccer ball, hoping to find some young students to play with on is travels.

Sandifer, the son of Francis and Ann Sandifer of Columbia, is a Benjamin Wofford Scholar, a member of the Blue Key National Honor Society and a dean’s list student. He is a graduate of A.C. Flora High School.