Middle Eastern Studies at Mac


The Middle East makes the headlines every day: bombings in Jordan, the Israeli pullout from Gaza, tension over oil prices, and, oh yeah, a war in Iraq. Behind those headlines, our nation is engaged in a debate over the nature of the culture and the religion that form the fabric of Middle Eastern societies, and that debate too often puts our collective ignorance on display. Is Islam a religion of peace or of war? Do “they” resent us for our freedoms? These are issues that author Michael Sells spoke to on Monday night at the Macalester Islam Colloquium. For the most part, Macalester students understand this complexity and seek to open their minds to it. There is a large and growing demand on campus for Middle Eastern studies, Islamic studies, study abroad in the Middle East, and Arabic language courses, with Macalester students numerically dominating the Arabic classes at St. Thomas for several years.

The college has done an admirable job of meeting this demand, with the recent hiring of an Islamicist in the Religious Studies department, the introduction of the Islam Colloquium, and a proposed professorship focused in Middle Eastern studies.

However, Macalester can do more to foster an understanding of Islam and the Middle East. Offering Arabic language on campus, allowing students to minor in Middle Eastern studies through ACTC (Macalester is the only ACTC school that refuses to accept the minor), and striving to offer a broader and stronger array of courses will strengthen the academic experience here and encourage students to be informed and insightful global citizens.