The University's Arabic language program will move from the World Languages Academy to the religious studies department in the College of Arts and Sciences this fall, which is considered by Arabic instructors and students as a step toward a Middle Eastern studies department.
Arabic is being folded into the religious studies department because the department can support Arabic students reading advanced literature and documents, most of which are Islamic in nature.
"I think this creates an interesting opportunity," said Daniel Falk, associate dean of religious studies. "The goal was to provide Arabic with a broader cultural, historical and literary context ... Our religious studies scholars all tend to be focused on foundational texts (of religions), which relies on languages. This has to do with a language and history component that's very important to our department."
The religious studies department hired David Hollenberg from James Madison University in Virginia to become the Arabic program director, and he will begin in September. Current Arabic instructors will continue to teach modern standard Arabic as Hollenberg teaches classical Arabic for students who hope to read advanced Islamic documents.
The World Languages Academy acts as a laboratory for languages that are not commonly taught, including Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Sahaptin, Swahili and Swedish. The University aims to integrate a language within a corresponding department if a World Languages Academy language becomes successful.
"It's a little weird to move a language under a religious field," Arabic instructor Mohamed Jemmali said. "But we understand how we can help each other, and the Arabic program is very excited to be hosted by a University department, even if it's an intermediate step toward offering a degree one day."
Arabic student Beshara Kehdi also thinks it's strange to have the fastest-growing language on campus moved to the religious studies department.
"(Arabic) will have more funding and opportunities," Kehdi said. "But I think people will falsely believe that Arabic and Islam are one thing instead of looking at Arabic as the language of a broader Middle East. The University is slowly recognizing the idea of a Middle Eastern studies program. They're taking little, but positive, steps."
Arabic instructor Chris Holman pointed out that not many universities in the U.S. offer Arabic, let alone have a department.
"The ideal argument (for creating a Middle Eastern studies department) would be that the Middle East has nurtured human civilization's growth for thousands of years," Holman said. "(Beginning) with the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago, to the Golden Age of Islam when most of the world's knowledge was held, refined and added to in the Middle East, to the discovery of oil and its eventually being integrated into nearly every facet of our lives, to the wars and conflicts being fought there today."