College announces new global Islamic studies major

Bo Martin ’15 is interested in the impact of Islam on the fight for racial equality in the United States. It’s the subject of a senior honors thesis he is currently writing as one of the College’s first global Islamic studies majors.

“It’s is a great mix of government, religion, linguistics, sociology and nearly every other humanities and social science,” says Martin of global Islamic studies.

The multidisciplinary new major was approved by Connecticut College faculty in November, and already 10 students have declared their intentions to major or minor in the subject. That’s a testament to students’ interest in the role of Islam and the influence of Muslims throughout the world, says Associate Professor of Religious Studies Sufia Uddin.

“Islam is one of the fastest growing religions, and less than 15 percent of Muslims are in the Middle East,” says Uddin. “We are challenging preconceived notions and rethinking how we understand Muslims and the role of Islam in the world.”

The addition of global Islamic studies further strengthens the College’s reputation for excellence in international education, says Dean of the Faculty Abigail Van Slyck.

“This is a ground-breaking program that leverages Connecticut College’s existing strengths in interdisciplinary learning to ensure that students develop a nuanced understanding of the intersections among religion, culture, history and language, and their impact on the world in which we live,” Van Slyck says. “Citizenship in today’s global society requires nothing less.”    

Global Islamic studies majors will take courses in religious studies, history, government and choose from a broad range of electives with titles like, “Islamic Art: Word and Image,” “Muslim Women’s Voices” and “Historicizing 9/11, Internationally and Locally.” The courses are taught by faculty in many different departments who have a range of expertise related to Islamic history and culture in Western Europe, Russia, Turkey, Bosnia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, North Africa, the United States and the Middle East.

Kerry Dugandzic ’18, who plans to double major in global Islamic studies and government, says her favorite course thus far was her first-year seminar “Gandhi and His Critics,” taught by Sheetal Chhabria, the Blaustein Assistant Professor of History.

“The course engaged my interests in activism, Hindu-Muslim relations, feminism, poverty and many other important issues,” she says. “I am passionate about human rights and have always been fascinated by Islam and its history.” 

Global Islamic studies majors will also be required to take two full years of language study, including two semesters at an intermediate level or higher, and complete a senior research project. Students can choose from Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Russian or Spanish, or select another language with the approval of a faculty adviser.

“Language is a critically important skill, and students will be encouraged to study abroad and conduct original research in the language of their choice,” says Uddin.

Lamiya Khandaker ’17, who plans to double major in global Islamic studies and government, hopes to study abroad in the UK and conduct research on how migrant Muslims communities there adapt to their surroundings, progress socially and develop politically.

“I’d like to study the balance of traditional and western identities adopted by migrant Muslims,” Khandaker says.

The global Islamic studies program was developed with a $100,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

March 4, 2015