Stanford has created a new program and professorship in Islamic studies this year after receiving a $9 million endowment to promote the understanding of Muslim culture. The funds will be used to support lectures, language instruction, and faculty and student research, among other activities.
The Islamic studies program has been designed to provide "additional faculty strength, improved language resources and library holdings, and numerous educational events both within day-to-day Stanford existence and open to the wider community," said Religious Studies Prof. Robert Gregg, the program's director
The expanded program will involve several departments and faculty members from many disciplines, Gregg said, but won't offer degrees. However, the University plans to establish an honors program for undergraduates.
The program is still searching for a senior scholar in Islam, and possibly a second Islamic scholar in political science, history or anthropology, if the position is funded.
Though the University already offers undergraduate and graduate courses in the field, many believed there were not enough to satisfy real and potential student interest, which increased dramatically after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Gregg said.
To fund the new program in the School of Humanities and Sciences, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation matched a $2.5 million donation from Bay Area residents Sohaib and Sara Abbassi and a $2 million gift from alum Lysbeth Warren.
Stanford maintains a "unique position in terms of shaping the next generation of leaders in industry and government," said Sohaib Abassi, a native Pakistani and former executive at Oracle. "We were impressed by the strong desire of the Stanford faculty to have such a program."
Warren, who has been working with the University to create this program since 1988, felt that it was "an absolute necessity" that a university of Stanford's caliber recognize "the breadth of what Islam represents around the world, in terms of background, history, and modern culture."
"The University was well on its way to this program before 9/11 happened," she said.
Some say they are glad to see an improvement in the resources devoted to Islamic studies at Stanford.
"Although the professors were great, I felt like there weren't as many classes on different issues as there could have been," said Irem Janjua, a 2003 graduate and former president of the Muslim Students Awareness Network. "I didn't feel extremely limited, but I felt it could have been better."
John Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University, and vice chair of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, will speak on the future of Islam at the program's inaugural event on Nov. 17.