It is no secret that Eckerd College is an advocate of diversity and cultural exploration. In continuation of the college's mission to build a better understanding of worldly cultures, a new minor in Middle East-North Africa Studies has recently been approved and is now available to Eckerd students.
This area-studies minor requires the completion of one of two core courses: Middle East Politics or Cultures and Societies of the Modern Middle East, at least two semesters of the Arabic language, and three electives. The creation of this minor will provide students with a better understanding of Middle Eastern and North African culture, politics, history and language.
The Middle East-North Africa Studies minor is transdisciplinary, allowing students to follow various academic paths at their own preference. The minor includes courses in social sciences, humanities and language, and is coordinated by Assistant Professor of History Adam Geurin and Assistant Professor of Political Science Michael Burch.
With an assortment of thirteen electives to choose from, the minor offers a wide range of courses covering topics from economics to religion. These numerous options will provide students with a broad understanding of Middle Eastern and North African culture and politics.
While the minor is new, the coordinators are excited for Eckerd students to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the Middle East, a topic that has been growing enormously in popularity in colleges throughout America. However, conversations about the Middle East are often centered on a narrow spectrum, and Guerin is on a mission to broaden the discussion.
In his classes, Guerin focuses on daily life patterns in the Middle East, approaching the subject from a social and cultural history perspective.
"Questions about oil, terror groups and Israel are the big questions that we're used to hearing about the Middle East," Guerin said. "Politicians make a lot of decisions regarding this part of the world that affect us. We talk a lot about this region without ever really questioning what daily life is like."
There is much about the Middle East that Americans have yet to understand, but freshman Shannon Edson is excited for this very reason.
"Now that there is a designated minor, I'll be getting a more holistic view of the Arabic world rather than just taking a language," Edson said. "Now I can learn about cultural aspects as well."
Edson is currently learning the Arabic language, taught by Professor Qays Majeed.
Enthusiastic students like Edson will help the minor grow in popularity, perhaps one day resulting in the creation of a major. This is a change Guerin would like to see.
"There's a lot of student interest simmering out there, we just currently don't have the institutional means to account for it," he said.
Guerin often asks his class: how much do you have to know about a place before you can say you truly understand it? Cultures are far more complex than what you can learn from a text book.
"...As an interdisciplinary minor," Guerin said, "we approach the Middle East from a number of different perspectives as a way to 'know' and as a way to move past the rather simplistic language one finds in the media when talking about this part of the world.