Mid-East Studies Discussed
by Kushal Kabir

In the first General Faculty meeting of the term, College President Nancy Dye expressed the need for the College to give greater attention to the politics, history, traditions and religion of the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.
“The need for more factual information concerning U.S.-Middle Eastern relations is still obvious,” Sarah LeBaron von Baeyer, a first year from Canada, said. She was one of many who attended the 4-part series of College-sponsored lectures and discussions that took place the week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In her opinion, the series was useful in articulating various perspectives but was limited on several subjects, including discussions U.S. foreign policies that might have caused negative sentiment, the Taliban regime and previous events that might have culminated in the Sept. 11 attack.
“As an international student, I would definitely be interested in taking such courses, as I find the media lacking and sources of information regarding these issues limited,” LeBaron von Baeyer said.
Many faculty members have voiced similar sentiments.
“I thought the Student Senate initiative on educating the campus was terrific and the discussion panel successful, but there is simply no way to compensate for the lack of courses,” Dean of the College and the Vice President of Academic Affairs Clayton Koppes said, adding that the region is “under-represented” in the College’s curriculum.
“The College is small, and because of that nature there is a limited number of programs we can provide,” he said, when asked why a Middle East Studies program does not currently exist. In fact, while many large universities do have such programs, few exist at liberal arts schools in Oberlin’s size range.
Presently, there is a proposal for the creation of a tenure track position in what would be defined as Middle East Studies. The position would cover regions in North Africa, Iran and Turkey.
Despite present budgetary concerns, President Dye has made it clear that the College needs to continue moving forward with its long-term strategic goals. Although the prospect of a Middle East Studies department emerging immediately is slim, the College is actiely considering the idea and is working to develop more courses for the spring, including plans for a new 200-level class on the contemporary Muslim world.
“I think [the program] is absolutely critical, and we have always known that, but through the events of Sept. 11, we realized we could not ignore it anymore,” Dean Koppes said. “Recent events sharpened our awareness. This is not an issue [that’s] here today and gone tomorrow; it is an issue that will be with us for years to come.”
Assistant Professor of Religion Anna Gade teaches most of the courses on the study of Islam and the Muslim world offered at Oberlin.
“Compared to other similar schools, the offerings of Religion [department] actually represent a fairly comprehensive course of study for a small liberal arts college,” she said.

“From the perspective of the study of religion, our present offerings already provide a basis for exploring many of the questions people are now asking that relate to topics such as political rhetoric and contemporary social movements, transnational networks, piety and, of course, Muslim readings of the Qur’an,” she said,
Gade also noted that a course examining modes of authority in the Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority worlds in the department of religion “could help develop frameworks everyone could understand and apply across disciplines.”
Many academics in the U.S. recognize that a good educational opportunity currently exists.

“Oberlin students are among those who are leading the way,” Gade said, expressing her hope that dialogue within the College community would continue so “we can use whatever opportunities might arise at Oberlin to build on and to complement our present strengths.”

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