Introduced in 2004, Vanderbilt's Islamic studies minor incorporates the study of Arabic, Islam, culture and Middle Eastern politics. The Islamic studies department has expanded its course offerings due to consistent growth.
This year, there was a 10 to 15 percent increase in the number of students enrolled in Arabic courses, said Arabic professor Bushra Hamad.
"Arabic has always been a focus of interest, but nowadays, there is more contact between nations, and students are very diversity-oriented," Hamad said.
A summer course in Arabic was offered for the first time last summer and will be offered again, Hamad said. The Islamic studies department is also hoping to add two new courses in fall 2008, Advanced Arabic and Arabic Culture, Religion and Politics.
A Chronicle of Higher Education article reported a national trend toward internationalization on American college campuses. Arabic is now the fastest growing major language with enrollment as high as 24,000 students, compared to about 10,600 in 2002. The number of institutions offering Arabic has doubled to 466.
Lenn Goodman, a professor of philosophy and religious studies who specializes in Islamic and Jewish philosophical thought, said media-driven interest in certain subjects reappears over time, and the interest in Arabic now is similar to that in Russia during the Cold War.
"Part of the interest comes not just from the post 9/11 environment but also interest in the culture and civilization itself," Goodman said. "But this sort of thing happens recurrently over time. There will be some event which will spur interest in a subject, which eventually dies down."
Hamad said he thinks the upsurge in interest in Arabic has a lot to do with students feeling they need to understand Islam as a major religion.
"Islam is one of three major religions; it has always been. There is more contact between the East and West, and the study of Arabic is the key to understanding Islamic religion and culture," Hamad said.
Seniors Katy Caudle and Candice Mixon said they did not initially have an interest in Islamic studies but were drawn to the program after taking Introduction to Islam.
"It wasn't something I intended on pursuing, but I ended up making a minor out of it," said Mixon, who is majoring in religious studies in addition to minoring in Islamic studies. "As I progressed, more and more classes opened up."
Both Caudle and Mixon say they have seen growth in the department as more students have become interested, and they think current events have been a major impetus.
"I see a lot more interest. They added two new sections of Arabic and a new professor," Caudle said. "Our generation had been in our formative years on Sept. 11, and we want to know what is going on. It's the war that's shaping our generation, and people are more interested in it."
"I've definitely seen people become more interested and taking more electives in Islamic studies," Mixon said. "It's something you hear about in the news, and there's a genuine interest to understand the news and that part of the world."
Mixon said she expects the program will grow even more over the next few years, and student interest will continue to increase.
"It's a growing program, and I expect new and great things from the Islamic studies department in the future," Mixon said.