Monday, June 1, 2009

BU English Alum Raja Founds New Journal

Poet, novelist, scholar, blogger--Dr. Masood Raja, Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Literature and Theory at Kent State University, is now adding "journal editor" to that list. Raja, who did his B.A. and M.A. in English at Belmont (winning the Graduate Writing Award among others while he was here), not only has a book forthcoming from Oxford University Press (Constructing Pakistan: Foundational Texts and the Rise of Muslim National Identity 1857-1947), but also has founded a new journal, Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies. I took the opportunity recently to ask him a few questions about his life and writing.

So in the retrospect of several years, what were the most valuable experiences of your B.A. and M.A. years at Belmont?

I think Belmont has a direct bearing on all that I have accomplished so far in my academic and professional career. I came to Belmont immediately after quitting the Pakistan Army. The two years as an undergraduate did not only train me to think critically but also gave me a chance to experience life with other undergraduates. This second part now enables me to understand the problems and trials of my undergraduate students better as my own undergraduate expertise is not so removed from theirs.

The Masters program at Belmont, through the close and attentive engagement with the faculty, provided me a sound foundation for my future work. I learned how to learn but I also learned how to be a mentor to my own students. Now as a graduate faculty member when I m directing a Masters thesis or administering a PhD exam, I find myself thinking: “How would Dr. Paine handle this, or what would Dr. Pinter say about this idea.” So my teachers at Belmont are my role models in defining my own role as a teacher and a mentor.

So, in a nutshell, I would not be where I am today as a teacher and a scholar without Belmont.

I remember when you graduated with your M.A. you said something about coming back to the University with something to say. You came back last Fall as a featured speaker in the Humanities Symposium. How was that experience, and what seems to have changed most about Belmont?

Coming back to Belmont as a speaker was one of the most exhilarating experience of my life as a scholar. I mean, just the honor of interacting with my teachers and to share my thoughts with young Belmont students was fascinating. I found Belmont to be busier, which is understandable, as it has grown since I left, but I still felt the same spirit of a nurturing community especially amongst the faculty. So, to say it in other words, while Belmont has grown in terms of its student body and its infrastructure, I am happy to know that it has not lost that feel of a caring community that makes it so special.

How did you get started blogging? What do you think about it as a mode of writing/communication? Did it in any way contribute to the founding of Pakistaniaat?

What I like about blogging is the freedom and the democratic immediacy of it. I mean anyone with access to the Internet can now put his or her ideas out there. I started blogging a few years ago on my personal website, a website provided to me by two of my Belmont/Nashville friends Audra and Mike. Their hosting company ( provides amazing web tools especially created for writers and artists.

So the blogging experience was crucial in my decision to startan online academic journal about Pakistan. I mean the technological means were there; all I needed was the resolve to do it.

Tell me about the journal—what’s its scope, why this journal, why now?

I started thinking of starting a journal about Pakistan last year, mainly because I felt Pakistan was still being covered and represented in the US media in a stereotypical way as a dark place etc.

The journal’s mission is to offer a space on the Internet for all those from Pakistan or interested in Pakistan to publish their work. I was lucky to have some serious scholars and writers join me from the very start. We launched our first website on January 12, 2009 and received our first submission on January 17.

We then moved to a new hosting company to use Open Journal Systems (OJS) software, the best software available for online academic publishing. Last week we published our first issue, which, of course, was made possible by a group of volunteers who offered us their labor and the writers who trusted us with their work.

The journal does not have much institutional support, so we rely heavily on donations and sale of our print copies. Blogging has helped here too as I was able to create a blog and provide a link to that on the journal website. Now if I get any questions, all I need to do as the editor is to point the person to our blog to find any additional information about the journal. The blog also helps us in requesting for donations through a donation button provided on the blog.

What are you reading these days? Are you writing anything else soon?

This week I am reading Delillo’s Libra for a graduate course on postmodernism that I'm teaching this summer. I am also working on my third book, Secular Fundamentalism, which basically challenges the Eurocentric readings of postcolonial texts and attempts to articulate a more culture-specific method of reading the postcolonial works about Islam.