As demands for knowledge grow, Middle Eastern Studies program takes off
As demands for knowledge grow, Middle Eastern Studies program takes offFebruary 06, 2004Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
Mehrzad Boroujerdi, associate professor of political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, is a native of Iran and an expert in Middle Eastern politics. Boroujerdi has advocated for the creation of more courses on the Middle East ever since he came to Syracuse University 12 years ago.
“I have been approached by lots of students who are interested in various aspects of the Middle East. I don’t feel qualified to try to be an expert on all these topics,” he says.
Under Boroujerdi’s direction, what began as a few scattered courses has now become a full-fledged program in Middle Eastern studies. The program was established in 2003 to expose students to the diverse cultures, languages, literatures, religions and political systems of the Middle East. Overseen by The College of Arts & Sciences, the program brings together faculty members from departments including anthropology; architecture; communications and rhetorical studies; education; fine arts; language, literature and linguistics; history; international relations; law; political science; and religion. The research and teaching interests of the faculty affiliated with this program focus on ancient source texts; history; literature and culture of the Middle East, Islam and Judaism; conflict resolution; and contemporary political issues.
Boroujerdi says the impetus for the program existed even before the terrorist bombings of Sept. 11, 2001, but that the interest of administrators and students increased markedly after those events. Enrollment in many courses having to do with the Middle East or Islam has doubled since those events. “Both as a country and as a campus, we realized how uninformed we are about this region,” Boroujerdi says.Though Sept. 11 may have piqued people’s interest in the Middle East, it’s important for students to see the area as a region of great beauty and culture, Boroujerdi says, and not just a font of “oriental despotism, religious fanaticism and political terrorism.”Boroujerdi says, “I don’t think our media are doing a great job in this respect. I can’t emphasize enough how many times I’ve been approached by students who have visited the Middle East and been positively surprised and impressed. The region’s history, heritage and social fabric are respectively glorious, amazing and nuanced.”The program offers a minor in Middle Eastern studies on the undergraduate level. Boroujerdi hopes that a certificate program for graduate students can be added in the future. He says proposals are being put together for visiting scholars to fill in the areas in which there is not already expertise on campus.
In describing the program’s participants, Boroujerdi says that some are “heritage” students-that is, those of Middle Eastern background who want to find out more about their roots – and that other groups to show interest include those planning to pursue careers in journalism, international relations, law, government or foreign service. “Taking some Arabic language courses is a wise course to follow if you want to work for the U.S. government these days,” he says. “Many departments are looking for people with this kind of language expertise.”
In the future, Boroujerdi says, he would like to connect with other area colleges and universities with the goal of forming a consortium in upstate New York that could serve as a resource on Middle Eastern studies for area high school teachers and others. He would also like to see a study-abroad program somewhere in the region. He anticipates that the need for education on the Middle East will continue to grow. “This is not a region of the world that you can ignore,” he comments.
For more information, visit http://middle-eastern-studies.syr.edu/.