It is the first semester that an international studies major regional concentration and minor on the Middle East are being offered at Elon University after being approved last spring by Elon University's curriculum committee.
"The Middle East is an important place to study because of its long and rich history," said Brian Digre, professor of history and coordinator of the international studies program. "Religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam come from the Middle East. The Middle East is critically important for understanding the world today in regards to politics, economics, history and religion."
Digre and a group of colleagues worked on creating the Middle East studies program for five years. It is an interdisciplinary program designed to promote a deeper understanding of regional issues and perspectives. Students can take classes in politics, religion, history, philosophy and art history dealing with the Middle East. Arabic classes can also be taken for the minor and international studies major regional concentration.
According to Digre, program development is ongoing; the program is looking to add courses in Hebrew. A course titled Media in the Middle East, which is usually offered during Winter Term, will also be added to the curriculum, said Digre.
Digre said he encourages all students who are Middle East minors or international studies majors with this concentration to visit the region they are studying.
"You gain new perspectives and insights by meeting people there, studying and taking courses with professors in the region, and it's a great opportunity to improve language skills," he said.
Through the university, students are able to study abroad at Koç University in Turkey, American University in Cairo, University of Haifa in Israel, the Council on International Educational Exchange school in Amman, Jordan and many other places in the Middle East.
"I believe the Middle East is a very good destination for our students," said Woody Pelton, dean of international programs and director of the Isabella Cannon Centre. "It represents a very different culture and allows students to demystify a part of the world that is often misunderstood and poorly represented in the media. I think among the things that would surprise students is how similar the people of the Middle East are to Americans in the way they think and in their values."
Pelton said there are plans to bring more study abroad options in the Middle East to Elon students.
Ronda Ataalla, a junior majoring in international studies with a concentration in the Middle East, said she is really enjoying the major because even though she is Middle Eastern, she is learning so much about her own culture. She is the founder and president of the Muslim Student Association at Elon.
Ataalla said the Middle Eastern Studies classes she has had so far have been tough and she is excited about taking challenging courses in Cairo next semester. Digre said a lot of students are interested in the Middle East and expects the number of students in the program to rise.
"Knowledge of the Middle East and Arabic language are both skills and knowledge bases that are in high demand," Pelton said.