Middle Eastern studies will be offered as a major in The College of Arts and Sciences for the first time beginning this fall.
The new major will join Latino-Latin American studies and Russian Central European studies as foreign culture majors offered at Syracuse University.
The College of Arts and Sciences, in partnership with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, now offers a 36-credit bachelor's degree in Middle Eastern studies, as well as a 12-credit graduate certificate. Before this year, the Middle Eastern Studies Program offered only a minor.
"Unfortunately for the average citizen, the Middle East invokes a series of images: religious fundamentalism, terrorism and oil," said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of MESP. "The aim of what we're offering is to really open up intellectual horizons, to really go above the headlines and develop some understanding of this extremely complex region of the world."
Laila Kabbaj, a junior international relations and Middle Eastern studies minor, found that the program helped broaden her perspective about a place that seemed so far away.
"I definitely had my preconceived notions," she said. "The Middle East is unfortunately plagued with conflict and crises and is often publicized, but still misunderstood."
Boroujerdi submitted the proposal for the new major last year. When Boroujerdi came to SU in 1992, he was the only person for a number of years who taught courses with relevance to the Middle East. Over the last decade, he said he's noticed an increase in student interest in the Middle East, especially after Sept. 11.
"International relations is an events-driven field of study," Boroujerdi said.
Students are curious about a region that is constantly featured in the media, he said.
Boroujerdi founded MESP in 2003 in an effort to offer interested students the opportunity to minor in the subject. Knowledge of the region, its history and its language provides students with career opportunities, he said.
Demand for the program steadily increased as students and faculty began to request more courses, leading to the creation of the major this fall.
To support the program's expansion, four new professors were hired this semester.
Among them is Rania Habib, assistant professor in linguistics and Arabic. She joined the MESP faculty as the first ever tenure track professor of Arabic. In the future, she will also be teaching courses that explore non-political aspects of the Middle East.
"(The students) will be able to examine relationships in the Arab world and learn about the diversity that exists among the many countries of the Middle East," Habib said.
The courses will focus on lesser-known aspects of the cultures, such as the music, food and family traditions that define and distinguish them.
MESP has already received recognition by the Middle East Studies Association. In the MESA August 2008 newsletter, SU was listed along with Cornell University, Colgate University and New York University as schools that have Middle Eastern programs of study.
"The trend is unmistakable," Boroujerdi said.