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January 25, 2002
Volume 39, No. 9


New courses help students make sense of 9/11
College of Medicine announces interim leadership appointments
Philip Hubbard: Pioneering professor, administrator leaves legacy for University
Diversity dialogue groups offer a first step to understanding beliefs

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New courses help students make sense of 9/11

  Illustration by Claudia McGehee.

Immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, faculty and staff members from all over campus gathered for discussion and information sessions about Islam, the Middle East, violence, and the significance of U.S. foreign policy, among other topics. But within a few weeks, things had quieted down and it might have seemed as if everyone had gone back to their old routines.

But a few professors used the national tragedy as a catalyst for ditching these routines and developing new curricula to prepare students for the radically changed world now waiting for them outside the University.

This semester, the University will offer six new courses about the religion, politics, culture, law, history, and geography of the Middle East and the Muslim world. Even though developing a new course means some are teaching an overload this semester, the consensus is that these courses have long been needed and the information is vital for students.

“We don’t teach our students what it means to be citizens of a super power,” says David Schoenbaum, professor of history. “This is a shocking omission, like not telling them where babies come from.”

Schoenbaum will teach a revamped foreign policy course called The U.S. and World Affairs with a half dozen current and former foreign policy makers as guest lecturers.

Until the mid-’90s, the University regularly offered courses in foreign policy, but in recent years they had been on hiatus because no one was available to teach them. Schoenbaum welcomes the opportunity to resume where he and his former colleague Jim Lindsay left off when both went on leave in 1996.

“Sept. 11 came as a surprise because students aren’t taught about foreign policy,” he says. “Ignoring foreign policy is like ignoring planets, gravity. This is a basic civic educational responsibility.”

Reza Aslan, visiting assistant professor of religion, points to another topic that has long been ignored or underrepresented in the UI curriculum: Islamic studies. Islam is the second largest religion in the world and the fastest growing religion in the West, yet the School of Religion has not had funding for a faculty line in Islamic studies.


The U.S. and World Affairs
David Schoenbaum
(with Wayne Moyer, Grinnell)

Political Issues: Terror, Rhetoric, and Television

John Nelson and Jeannie Sowers

Religion and Politics in the Middle East

Reza Aslan

The Middle East

Rex Honey

Law in the Muslim World

Adrien Wing

Inside/Outside the Middle East

Virginia Dominguez


After the attacks, Aslan says his Introduction to Islam course was suddenly so popular that even students who were not registered showed up to sit on the floor and listen to his lectures. He was disappointed to see them trickle away as the weeks went on.

“My classes were filled with visitors for the first month when everyone wanted to know about Islam,” he says, but it didn’t last. “I hope that’s not indicative of a societal trend. I fear that as we go back to our daily routine we will forget what happened and why.”

Judging by registration numbers, student interest in these types of courses has not waned. The smaller seminar courses like Aslan’s reached their 25 to 40 student capacities in the first week of registration, and the larger courses like Schoenbaum’s have attracted more than 100 students each.

Aslan’s appointment has been extended through the next academic year, and he has been asked to expand Introduction to Islam to accommodate more students in the fall 2002 and spring 2003 semesters and to add it to the General Education curriculum. In addition, he will teach Religion and Politics in the Middle East, which he was developing before Sept. 11. It is a theoretical study of Islamic governance focusing on three or four regions of the world that have structured this church-state relationship differently.

For a more general study of the region, Rex Honey, professor of geography and director of the Global Studies Program, has developed a course, The Middle East, that will address a range of issues, including culture, conflict, history, religion, and geography.

“In the 21st century, the Middle East is a part of the world that demands effective instructional attention,” he says. “Sadly, the events of Sept. 11 jolted us into looking at some things we should have been looking at all along. I hope we never again have a situation where nothing about the Middle East is being taught here.”

Adrien Wing, professor of law, expressed fervent support for that sentiment at several campus forums following the terrorist attacks. When she learned that she would not be on leave during the spring semester as planned, she decided to organize a course of her own, Law in the Muslim World.

The course will cover multiple levels of law—customary (unwritten) law, Islamic law in various countries, human rights law, and public international law—and will take selections from countries throughout the Islamic world.

“In just two hours a week for 14 or 15 weeks, we’ll really only just be dabbling,” she says, adding that she is gratified to see so many other new courses about the Middle East.

“To develop a whole brand new course is a lot of work,” she says, “so to go from one or two courses all the way to six in one semester is great.”

Article by Mary Geraghty Kenyon

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