Bowdoin Offers New Minors in Arabic and Middle Eastern StudiesBy Tom Porter
This fall semester, students will have two new minors to choose from: Arabic and Middle Eastern and North African studies (MENA). The addition was welcomed by George Lincoln Skolfield, Jr. Professor of Religion Robert Morrison, who has been pushing for the new courses for several years.
Bowdoin has been offering Arabic classes since 2008, said Morrison, but until now they have never counted for anything beyond credit or a student's distribution requirement. “The Arabic minor will entail two years of language instruction—that’s four classes, with the option to add a fifth,” he explained. With the hiring this past year of two instructors—lecturer in Arabic Batool Khattab and Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Arabic Pamela Klasova—the College is now well placed to offer more language classes, Morrison noted.
On top of the linguistic component, the Arabic minor will require one more class in another discipline that’s related to the Arabic world. This class will most likely be taught in English and can be chosen from a variety of academic options, including government, history, religion, sociology, cinema studies, Africana studies, and Francophone studies. “Arabic is a tough language to learn,” said Morrison, a scholar of Islam and Judaism, “but it’s an extremely valuable thing to study, and it’s great that Bowdoin is strengthening its commitment to the subject."
Middle Eastern and North African Studies (MENA)
There is also a language requirement for this new minor, said Morrison, but greater emphasis is placed on the study of the region, which spans from Morocco in the west to Iran in the east. “MENA students must take one year, or two classes, of any Middle Eastern language. The easiest one for Bowdoin students is, of course, Arabic, because we offer classes on campus, but students spending a year abroad in somewhere like Israel or Turkey would be perfectly entitled to take language classes there.”
Three non-language classes are also required for MENA, and, as in the Arabic non-language option, they can be chosen from a wealth of associated subjects. Morrison cited the strength of several Bowdoin faculty members in a number of areas, including Assistant Professor of Government Barbara Elias, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in History Idriss Jebari, Assistant Professor of Sociology Oyman Basaran, and Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Meryem Belkaid.
“It’s not just about Islam and politics,” said Morrison. “The Middle East is in the news all the time, but it’s also an extremely significant area of human civilization from even before the common era—think of those Assyrian reliefs and other artifacts on display at the Bowdoin Museum of Art!”
Since July 1, 2019, minors in Arabic and Middle Eastern and North African studies are being formally offered by Bowdoin.