By Nico Zulli
Baylor students’ demand for the addition of courses in the areas of Arabic and Middle East studies has resulted in a new major. This new major, housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, Arabic and Middle East studies.
“This new major in Arabic and Middle East studies speaks to global imperative, an aspect of the Pro Futuris vision, and is really going to open Baylor students up to the world,” said Dr. Heidi Bostic, modern foreign language department chair and professor of french.
The program’s website states the major is designed to provide students with an interdisciplinary approach to studying and understanding the Middle East region with a specific focus on Israel, Turkey and Iran.
Although it was approved in spring 2013 and available in summer 2013, this semester was the first fall semester the Arabic and Middle East studies major was made available to students.
The major centers on the strategic importance of the Middle East and its strong and ever-increasing presence.
The ultimate goal of the Arabic and Middle East studies program is to provide students with an adequate level of proficiency in the Arabic language and understanding of Middle East culture such as to satisfy the growing demand for this professional knowledge in the Western world.
In the past, for a variety of majors like political science, religion and history, students were recommended to take courses in both Arabic and Middle East studies.
There have also been ways made available to students in order for them to supplement different majors with the study of Arabic and Middle East studies.
“There are actually two separate minors available, one in Arabic and one in Middle East studies, which can be paired with another major, like biology for instance,” Bostic said.
However, the convergence of Arabic and Middle East studies into a major for students has not happened until now.
Dr. Abdul Saadi, assistant professor in Arabic, said the recommended courses in Arabic and Middle East studies for certain majors, despite the availability of the minors in the past, did not fully satisfy student desire to pursue more in-depth study within these areas.
“Many majors, prior to the addition of this major, actually highly recommended courses in the areas of Arabic and Middle East studies,” Saadi said. “But students were asking for more after their completion of these courses.”
The Baylor Modern Foreign Language Department saw a similar demand when it came to the Arabic minor specifically.
“There have been a lot of new minor additions over the years here at Baylor,” Bostic said. “And, the minor in Arabic was created due to both prospective and current student demand. These students wanted to be able to intensively study Arabic.”
At the same time the Arabic and Middle East studies major was approved in spring 2013, a minor in International Studies also became available to students.
“The unifying academic theme of Pro Futuris is to support ‘academic programs that recognize the importance of human institutions, promote an understanding of and responsible participation in economic and social systems, foster citizenship, enhance community, and encourage service,’” senior lecturer of political science Dr. Ivy Hamerly wrote in an email to the Lariat.
When proposing the International Studies minor for approval, Hamerly said the proposal included the Pro Futuris vision of broadening world views and increasing exposure to international curriculum.
This curriculum, she said, allows students focusing in a variety of skill-focused majors to develop an international worldview without leaving their chosen school or sacrificing their focused disciplines.
One thing that Bostic, Saadi and Hamerly agree on is that students with an undergraduate background encompassing an international aspect will potentially have a greater understanding of how to communicate, interact, navigate, problem solve and make an influential impact in different places around the world.
Saadi said studying within the Arabic and Middle East studies major will provide an unparalleled depth to students’ personal perspective of our world.
“This major establishes academic competency with a world outside the classroom,” he said. “Students will eventually interact with this world and in order to be servants, we — and I say ‘we’ meaning Baylor — should know the world and its cultures.”
Saadi also said he believes it would have been beneficial for Baylor to implement this major program 30 to 40 years ago in anticipation of the reality of today.
“This major had to be integrated because we have to be aware to this reality of globalization,” he said. “And with regard to the international studies minor, it is almost viewed as a complementary field, as in the two almost came with each other and are intimately related.”