Middle Eastern studies minor in the works

Senior Nadav Soroker: “Learning about different cultures is greatly useful because it gives you a perspective that is not the one you grew up with.”
Taylor Blatchford / Graphic Designer

MU could become the third school in the Southeastern Conference with a Middle Eastern studies program, as a minor is in the approval process and is gaining traction thanks to support from students and faculty.

Sophomore and former Maneater staffer Isabella Alves and senior Nadav Soroker, along with the help of religious studies professor Nathan Hofer, have been working for the last semester to implement the minor as soon as possible.

“The idea is that for those students who want to go into either graduate school to something related to the Middle East or want to go on to get an internship with the hope of working for the government, an NGO, or a private corporation that does something in the Middle East, this will provide them with some background and a credential to help them in their professional pursuits,” Hofer said.

Alves agrees with Hofer that it would help her in her future international studies.

“Having this minor would definitely help me with graduate school and starting my understanding and research in that region,” Alves said. “The sooner I can start, the better.”

Soroker said the minor would be an opportunity for students to learn about a “really crucial region.”

“Learning about different cultures is greatly useful because it gives you a perspective that is not the one you grew up with,” Soroker said.

The minor would take an interdisciplinary approach, meaning that the 15 hours of required coursework to complete the minor could come from multiple departments. So far, classes that could be included come from the departments of art history and archeology, classics, English, film studies, geography, Hebrew, history, peace studies, political science and religious studies.

“The minor will require multiple courses from multiple departments, and there are currently on the books a lot of courses that touch on the Middle East from all different kinds of departments in the College of Arts and Science,” Hofer said. “We’re just putting together a framework for what’s already out there.”

Hofer was drafted to support the minor last semester when Alves and Soroker approached him after they were given the idea by professor Joseph Hobbs.

“I’d been thinking on it for a while, but hadn’t moved on it yet until some students contacted me and asked me why there’s no minor in Middle Eastern studies, and I said there’s no reason; let’s do it,” Hofer said. “It was really the students who spurred me to action.”

According to the Office of the Provost, for a minor to be approved, a proposal has to be drafted by the professor wanting to implement it. The proposal includes a list of courses the minor would include, any course prerequisites or admission requirements, a funding statement, and any other academic units that would be affected.

This proposal has to be accepted by the department chairs of participating departments, the vice provost for undergraduate studies, the campus undergraduate curriculum committee and, finally, the provost.

Currently, the minor’s proposal is approved by the necessary department chairs, and Hofer hopes that it will be approved by Associate Dean of Arts and Science Theodore Tarkow by the end of this month.

Along with the proposal, Hofer included a petition that Alves and Soroker penned to gain support from the minor “to prove that it was not just an academically worthy minor to have, but also that there was student interest to make it worth their time to do it,” Soroker said. The petition received over 100 signatures.

Furthermore, the proposal requires very little funding as many of the courses that would fall under the minor already exist. Only two of the proposed courses would be new: Religion and History in the Middle East I (Late Antiquity to 1453) and Religion and History in the Middle East II (1453 to Present).

“If it’s revenue-neutral, then there’s no justifiable way to say no to it, at least in my eyes,” Alves said.

The minor also does not include any language requirement as of yet, but in the future, Hebrew and Arabic classes could count toward the minor. MU only offers two semesters of Arabic and Hebrew classes, and each course is five credit hours.

“You only have to take 15 credit hours for a minor, so if you did two language courses in one year, that would be 10 credit hours,” Hofer said. “You practically have the whole thing doing just that. I’m hoping once we get the framework in place, the minor’s working and enough students show interest that we will generate enough bodies in the classrooms that we can justify expanding the Arabic and Hebrew offerings.”

Of the 14 schools in the SEC, only two have any degrees related to Middle Eastern studies. The University of Arkansas has a major and Mississippi State University has a minor.

“It will add another feather in Mizzou’s cap for prospective students who are interested in these kinds of things,” Hofer said. “Mizzou can be a place that they can head to.”

As far as the future of the minor goes, Hofer feels hopeful. However, he realizes the process will take some time.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to slowly grow the program, but it will take a while,” Hofer said. “This is a good first step.”

Edited by Taylor Blatchford | tblatchford@themaneater.com

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