Dr. Harrison Akins, from Maryville, TN, is the Policy Analyst for South Asia on the professional staff of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in Washington, DC. Created by the U.S. Congress under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, USCIRF is an independent agency in the United States Government that monitors religious-based discrimination and restrictions on religious freedom abroad according to international human rights standards and makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, State Department, and Congress. As USCIRF’s subject matter expert on South Asia, he reports on religious freedom conditions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Burma/Myanmar; monitors religious freedom in the broader South Asian region; regularly authors special reports on religious freedom issues in South Asia; and serves as the primary advisor on South Asia-related issues for the Commission.
Dr. Akins received his PhD in Political Science, with concentrations in International Relations, Public Policy, and Global Security Studies, at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He also served as a Global Security Research Fellow at the University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy. He previously earned a BA in History and Music Performance from American University in Washington, DC, an MA in Liberal Arts (the Great Books Program) from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, and an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics. After graduating from American University, he spent a year teaching English in Wakkanai, Japan, the northernmost city in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, as part of the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Programme.
Prior to coming to the University of Tennessee to complete his PhD, Dr. Akins was an Ibn Khaldun Chair Research Fellow and Program Coordinator at American University’s School of International Service, working with the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies and former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed. While at American University, he served as a senior researcher for two of Ambassador Ahmed’s major research projects: The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Brookings Press, 2013) and Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (Brookings Press, 2018). The Journey into Europe project involved fieldwork in 10 countries across Europe over a period of two years, with Dr. Akins serving as both a field researcher and the fieldwork coordinator. The project resulted in both a book and a documentary film, for which he served as associate producer, director of cinematography, and script consultant.
His research interests include human rights, intra-state conflict, terrorism, Islamic culture and politics, South Asian politics, and U.S. foreign policy. His book project, The Terrorism Trap: The War on Terror Inside America’s Partner States, focuses on how U.S. counterterrorism policy shifted the domestic security policies of the United States’ partner states and the resulting impact, using a mixed methods approach. He is also a two-time recipient of the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship to study Urdu in Lucknow, India. His research, relying on both quantitative and qualitative methods, has appeared in a number of academic journals, including Terrorism and Political Violence, Asian Security, Asian Survey, Oxford Middle East Review, and Journal for Muslim Minority Affairs. A frequent contributor to the media, Dr. Akins’ essays have been featured in the Atlantic, Los Angeles Review of Books, Foreign Policy, BBC, Al Jazeera, USA Today, Huffington Post, India Times, the Guardian, and the Tennessean, among other outlets.