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Moving Forward with the Volga-Kama Iniative

Last spring the IAURNC announced the official launch of a new partnership between Indiana University and three educational institutions in Kazan, Russia: Kazan Federal University, the Russian Islamic University, and the Marjani Institute of History.  This “Volga-Kama Initiative,” as it was named in honor of the region of Russia surrounding Kazan, is focused on increasing awareness of language, culture, and modern social issues in the Volga region of Russia.

Earlier this year the Volga-Kama Initiative organized visits to IU by a number of professors from Kazan, including Dr. Leyla Almazova from the Marjani Institute of History and Dr. Alla Salnikova of Kazan Federal University.  Both gave well-received lectures at IU on issues related to contemporary Islam and society in Tatarstan and central Russia.  In addition, the Volga-Kama Initiative and Indiana University’s Summer Workshop for Slavic and East European Languages (SWSEEL) were able to offer a course in Introductory Tatar during the 2012 summer program—a first for both SWSEEL and IU.

In exchange for the visits to IU set up earlier in the year by the Volga-Kama Initiative, Professor Edward Lazzerini, Director of the IAUNRC and the Initiative’s Coordinator at IU, was invited this October to Kazan, where he was able to spend nearly a month working with the V-KI’s Russian partners on the future of the Initiative.  As an opportunity to both finalize the memoranda of agreement between IU and its Russian partner institutions in Kazan and to begin work on numerous manuscript, faculty, and student exchanges, the trip was successful in fulfilling the organizers’ goals.

“My trip was really very successful,” said Professor Lazzerini upon his return: “Initial agreements were signed, and plans for their elaboration are underway.”  These plans, Lazzerini elaborated, include not only visits from IU to Kazan and vice versa by various faculty members of the Volga-Kama Initiative’s partner institutions, but will soon involve students as well. “We will see the first IU graduate students,” Lazzerini said, “doing research in Kazan in the fall of 2012.”

Having been able to meet with a variety of professors, government officials, and religious leaders in Kazan, Professor Lazzerini is very optimistic about the Volga-Kama Initiative’s coming activities.  There is a great deal of support on all sides, Lazzerini noted, and planning is moving forward for a conference entitled “Education, Intercultural Cooperation, and Identity Construction in the Volga-Kama Region Since the Late 19th Century,” to be held at Kazan State University in May 2012.

Altogether, Lazzerini emphasized, the Volga-Kama Initiative is forming an important and long-term link between Indiana University and its Kazan-based institutional partners. As funded and supported at Indiana University by the IAURNC, the Denis Sinor Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, the Russian and East European Institute, and the Islamic Studies Program, the V-KI represents an unusually broad melding of interdepartmental and international research opportunities.  In the coming years its focus will continue to expand and will come to encompass further academic exchanges, symposia, and a large-scale planned study of Islam in daily life in Tatarstan and central Russia.