Middle East studies in the News
Jewish Affairs, Middle Eastern Studies, and Israel
by Norman Adler
I am writing to commend Ari Fridman on his piece in the last Commentator 'The Grass is Always Greener'. It is always gratifying to have our student journalists examine specific programs and areas that affect undergraduate education.
Ari was comparing the new Brandeis Center with our offerings. He said "To be fair, Yeshiva has not completely ignored the Middle East." However, he goes on to say "The Schneier Center for International Affairs was a good start toward bringing hot-button issues political issues to Yeshiva, but the center has no existent faculty, only a director, and acts strictly as a forum for lectures, not course offerings". Moreover, "Departments where one might expect to find a glimpse into the modern Middle East-History, Political Science, and Economics-do not currently offer such opportunities.
In fact, we not only compare favorably with Brandeis, we are one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country in terms of our coverage of the area that intersects Middle East, Israel, and Jewish World Affairs! I have not done the formal research, but I would be willing to wager that we offer more in the subject matter of Middle East Affairs, Zionism, and contemporary world Jewry than schools much larger than ours.
In addition to the social science offerings, we offer more Middle Eastern and Judaic cultural studies than schools an order of magnitude larger. Virtually every semester, we offer courses in Hebrew, Aramaic/Syriac, and Arabic - and have even offered Ladino. We also teach Biblical Archaeology, including summer programs on site at Israeli archaeological digs. While other colleges have cut back on these offerings, we are expanding.
Before returning to our offerings in the social sciences, let me clarify the nature of academic centers. Centers, like our new Arthur Schneier Center for International Affairs, have several purposes. They bring in scholars, sponsor symposia, act as intellectual bridges between academic units, and help bring in external attention and even funding to a university. While departments are the 'home' of faculty, the Center structure offers a forum for them to interact, co-curricular programs that span departments, and cultural enrichment. The Schneier Center, for example, is offering summer research fellowships in International Affairs.
Symposia are not 'one-shot deals' as Ari's article implies; if you look at them as a series of events, they provide a co-curricular motif that enrich your course experience. This year, the YC Book Project (whose topic was freedom of expression) was explicitly designed to help celebrate Yeshiva College's 75th Anniversary by stressing YU's 'voice' in contemporary world affairs; our featured book - and speaker - was Salman Rushdie, perhaps the best known moderate Muslim writer whose unfortunate personal experience at the hands of middle-eastern Muslim autocrats illuminated the texts that every first-year student read, and studied in the basic English composition course.
This Book Project was followed by a Symposium sponsored by the Schneier Center - "The Political Face of Religious Fundamentalism" - which I had the honor of moderating (okay, immodestly I'm therefore invested in and enthusiastic about it). The three Symposium panelists were Professors Martin Marty (a Christian Minister and probably the leading authority on religious fundamentalism, director of the multi-volume Fundamentalism Project), Sam Heilman (a leading sociologist and expert on Jewish fundamentalism), and Bassam Tibi, a Syrian-born Muslim who is one of the most astute observers on radical Muslim fundamentalism in the world. Several of us have high hopes that Professor Tibi will return for more than a single lecture. (All of these Schneier Center events took place under the direct, inspirational leadership of Professor Ruth Bevan, Chair of Political Science and Director of the Schneier Center).
Next semester, the concept of Middle Eastern (especially Muslim) fundamentalism will be treated in an honors course that Dr. Maury Silver and I will be giving in Psychology and Religion (which will have a more extensive treatment on the psychological variables underlying fundamentalism - and its political consequences).
President Joel and Academic Vice President Morton Lowengrub have enthusiastically been building Middle Eastern, Israeli and International Affairs courses with a number of appointments for several years. Dr. Richard White (who teaches Semitic languages, including Arabic) is now a full-time member of the faculty. Professor Brian Daves (an expert on Middle Eastern Politics) has joined our Political Science Department. He plans to teach Middle East Politics next spring, as well as offering courses in Israeli Political and Authoritarianism in the Middle East.
Dr. Reeva Simon, an expert in the Modern Middle East, has been teaching Middle East History for several semesters at YC and will be joining us as a full-time faculty member next fall. Her specialty is Arab Iraq and is also an expert in the Jews of Iraq. Her books include:
* The Middle East in Crime Fiction
Starting next year, she will continue Middle Eastern History and may expand the course into a year-long sequence (fall Mohammed to Ottoman Empire, Spring Modern Middle East).
In addition to the impetus provided by the Schneier Center, the University has also been gifted by other friends whose support has provided faculty support (e.g. The Irving and Toni Rosen Program on Israel and the Middle East.)
To complement courses and programs on Israel and the Middle East, we have been able to attract two figures in Jewish Thought and general philosophy (e.g. Edith and Michael Wyshograd) who have been offering courses in the intellectual background of Modern Jewish Studies. So, just as an example, this current semester we are offering:
POL 1801H Leo Strauss: Classical Political . Philosophy and Our Modern World with Dr. Ruth Bevan
JHI 1416 Topics in Zionism with Rabbi Shalom Carmy
JHI 1801H Modern .Orthodoxy: History & Ideology with Dr. Alan Brill
Philosophy: Continental Philosophy: Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche with Dr. Michael Wyschograd
Ari's article is incorrect in that the Zionism course this semester is a first; we have previously offered courses in Zionism (political, historical, philosophical aspects).
We are trying to build not only a series of individually relevant courses but a coherent program. Professor Bevan's current course in Leo Strauss chronicles the developing thought of a major philosopher - who is called the father of 'neo-conservatism'. He himself wrote on Jewish topics as well as classical philosophy and is intellectual basis of much of the support for Israel in the intellectual circles of the West. Similarly, the course in Continental Philosophy by the Wyshograds presents the philosophical foundations of nationalism and thus Zionism.
To conclude my 'list', I want to highlight the breadth of our Middle Eastern offerings. The University is proud to welcome a world-expert in Iranian Studies and Iranian Jewry. Professor Amnon Netzer, the Chairman Emeritus of Hebrew University's Department of Iranian and Judeo-Islamic Studies, is a world-class scholar in Asian and African Studies. He will be teaching this summer at Revel, offering a course on the history of Iranian Jewry which is open to the undergraduate students as well. The course is sponsored by the Jacob E Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies (another of our Institutes).
Thus, I think that Yeshiva University can be very proud of its intellectual status in the world of Jewish Affairs, Middle Eastern Studies, and Israel. We are emerging, as we should, as 'The Jewish University in Service to Humanity', to quote President Joel. To take full advantage of who we are as a university (okay, here comes the sermon), students should spend a full four years on campus, delve into the courses, enrich their lives with the symposia and co-curriculum, maybe write an honors thesis - and become the intellectual leaders we need.
Norman Adler is the dean of Yeshiva College and will be retiring the dean position this summer. He will continue at Yeshiva as a University Professor in Pyschology and as a senior advisor to Dr. Morton Lowengrub, Vice President for Academic Affairs.
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