University to Inaugurate Middle Eastern and Islamic Studes

University to Inaugurate Middle Eastern and Islamic Studes

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Courses in Arabic and contemporary Middle Eastern literature will be introduced this year under an ambitious new Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies program bolstered by a US Department of Education grant of more than $160,000.

A distinguished lecture series and freshman seminars on Middle Eastern culture also are among the planned offerings of the cross-disciplinary program, which had been in the planning stages for several years but has taken on particular relevance post Sept. 11.

"Arabic is seen as a strategic language," said Prof. Ali Banuazizi (Psychology), who is directing the project with Assoc. Prof. Benjamin Braude (History). "There have been many write-ups of how ill-prepared we are as a country in the knowledge of Arabic."

The study of Islam is appropriate to the mission of a Christian university like Boston College, since the three great faiths of the Holy Land are intertwined at the roots, said Braude, a scholar of Middle Eastern history.

"Boston College has a special responsibility as an institution that views the world from a religious perspective, and thus has a special interest in the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam," he said.

An introductory course in Arabic makes its debut this fall in the Slavic and Eastern Languages Department, he said, and an intermediate course will be added next year.

Student response has been strong. "We were hoping we would get a handful of students registering for the course, but within an hour, we had 20," said Banuazizi. He said 37 in all have signed up for introductory Arabic. Two sections will be taught each semester this year.

Another course, Middle Eastern Literatures in Translation, is to be introduced in Slavic and Eastern Languages in the spring semester, with students reading contemporary literary works translated from Arabic, Persian and Turkish, according to Banuazizi.

"For BC this is something quite new," said Banuazizi, a veteran professor who has directed the minor in Middle Eastern Studies, which is being renamed and revamped under the project. "Some of the offerings are really quite exciting."

A freshman seminar to be taught this fall by Calderwood Professor of Islamic and Asian Art Jonathan Bloom will examine the art and religious and political history of Jerusalem. It is the first of several planned seminars in Middle Eastern studies that are intended to intellectually engage freshmen.

Next month will see the debut of a lecture series open to the University community with the first of six planned presentations by distinguished speakers, according to Banuazizi. The roster of speakers in the yearlong series is to be announced.

Meantime, a foundation course in Islamic civilization will be team-taught as part of the core curriculum for underclassmen, Banuazizi said.

Fifteen or more faculty in English, Romance Languages, Political Science, Theology, Fine Arts, History and Psychology plan to take part in program workshops designed to help them incorporate knowledge of the Islamic world into the courses they teach, according to Braude.

 

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