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New concentration to focus on Middle East

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-085ad54f-0cf1-b750-660e-53181d07c619">Starting this year, Carleton students of any class year can concentrate in Middle East Studies.

The new concentration includes courses from several departments, such as religion, political science, Hebrew, Arabic and history.

The concentration has three parts, according to Noah Salomon, Associate Professor of Religion, who directs the concentration. Students must complete 45 credits across 13 departments, with no more than 24 credits coming from one specific department. In addition, they must pass either Hebrew 204 or Arabic 205. At the end of their time at Carleton, concentrators are required to write a final paper.

“These aren’t just three courses you’re taking. They’re part of a field, and the field is called Middle East Studies. And we want you to think about what that means,” Salomon said. “They’ll write at the end of their capstone experience what we call a portfolio paper that outlines what their engagement with Middle East Studies has been and how they might see links and synergies between the different courses that they’ve taken.”

The concentration is the subject of a Bridge grant, which aims to increase collaboration between Carleton and St. Olaf. Salomon and Jamie Schillinger, St. Olaf Associate Professor of Religion, were awarded the grant last spring to help the Middle East Studies programs at both colleges share resources and collaborate. Since both colleges’ Middle East studies programs are relatively small, they will both benefit from an increase in collaboration, according to Salomon.

The concentration has been in the works for years, according to Stacy Beckwith, director of Judaic Studies and Hebrew professor.

“From the minute I got there was talk about maybe some kind of Middle East Studies program,” she said. “And the question was: What should come first? It’s like a chicken-or-the-egg kind of question. Should languages come first, or should more complementary studies come first?”

Beckwith said that the former President Rob Oden helped establish Middle Eastern languages at Carleton. Arabic was first taught in 2007, and Yaron Klein, Associate Professor of Arabic, was hired in 2009.

The Middle Eastern languages department was established in 2010. Beckwith and Adeeb Khalid, Professor of Asian Studies and history, led the push for the Middle East Studies concentration.

According to Beckwith, as the Middle Eastern languages department expanded and as the college hired more professors with Middle Eastern oriented specialities, it became clear that the college could support a Middle East Studies concentration.

In 2012, Carleton received a federal grant from the Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) Program that allowed Beckwith and Khalid to plan a Middle East Studies concentration.

The concentration was approved by the Education and Curriculum Committee (ECC) last fall.

Salomon said that the creation of the concentration at Carleton fulfills student demand that has existed for a long time. “Students had fulfilled our imagined requirements for this concentration without even trying,” he said.

“It gives recognition to those students who are doing this kind of thing anyhow,” Salomon said.

It will also help connect students and faculty with common interests, he said.

“I think a key issue, also, is for students to be able to think about how to tie the courses they’re taking together,” Salomon said.

“I think we’re doing a disservice if students are just taking a random set of classes that have no thread that ties them together.”

One student interested in declaring the new concentration is Sam Haiken ’18, a political science major and Hebrew student.

“The reason I’m a political science major is because I want to study the Middle East specifically,” he said. “And I actually feel that Carleton doesn’t, or didn’t, have a lot of courses devoted to that, so I was really excited that they were developing this entire concentration revolving around it. And I was really excited about how diverse it is. It encompasses all of these things that maybe I wouldn’t have done if I wasn’t obligated to by the concentration.”

Similarly, Zayn Saifullah ’17, political science major and student departmental adviser for the Middle East Studies concentration, said:

“There’s a big difference between just knowing things about the Middle East and getting introduced to the formal study, the literature, on a more structured level. I really hope to get pieces that structure out, rather than the random tidbits that I pick up from the political science major or from taking Arabic.”

Because the official declaration process has not yet begun, Salomon does not yet have a number of current concentrators. However, he emphasized that students from any class year will be able to declare the concentration, as long as they have completed the requisite language courses.

Salomon and Beckwith said that the requirement for advanced Arabic or Hebrew will limit the number of concentrators, but they do not see this as a drawback.

“I do think understanding the Middle East requires knowing one of the languages that’s spoken there,” Salomon said. “To be a serious person who understands the region that you’re working in, you can’t rely on translation. You’ve got to be able to know the language yourself.”

Beckwith said, “We knew we wanted a concentration that would require either Hebrew or Arabic, especially because our Hebrew and Arabic programs are really small.

“And so the students in those programs really get to dialogue with one another throughout all the terms of their language study. To take that kind of feeling into the concentration is what we were looking for.”

Haiken added that the concentration might also increase collaboration between students of Arabic and Hebrew. “You have everyone on one email list with one block of professors, so maybe, the communication will be more mainstreamed and events will be better advertised or more precisely advertised,” she said.

The concentration’s kickoff event was Tuesday, October 25th, in the Weitz Center for Creativity.

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