Harrison Akins, from Maryville, TN, is the Policy Analyst for South Asia on the professional staff of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Commission is an independent advisory body in the government that monitors religious-based discrimination and makes recommendations to the White House, State Department, and Congress.
He received his PhD in Political Science, concentrating in International Relations and Public Policy, at the University of Tennessee, where he also served as a Research Fellow at the 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 UT, 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 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 Akins serving as 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 and director of cinematography.
His research interests include minority discrimination, intra-state conflict, terrorism/counterterrorism, Islamic culture and politics, South Asian politics, and US foreign policy. At UT, his doctoral dissertation, The Terrorism Trap: The Hidden Impact of America’s War on Terror, focused on how U.S. counterterrorism policy affects the domestic security policy of the United States’ partner states, using a mixed methods approach. He is 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 Terrorism and Political Violence, Asian Survey, Oxford Middle East Review, and Journal for Muslim Minority Affairs. A frequent contributor to the media, his essays have been featured in the Atlantic, Los Angeles Review of Books, Foreign Policy, BBC, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post, India Times, the Guardian, and the Tennessean, among other outlets.