Connecticut College receives $806,000 grant for Global Islamic Studies
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has renewed its support for the College’s ambitious Global Islamic Studies (GIS) program, pledging to fund new opportunities for students and faculty over the next four years.
The $806,000 grant will build upon the program’s existing foundation of expertise on Islam and Muslim communities around the world and will promote interdisciplinary collaboration by integrating more faculty members into the work of teaching those subjects. Workshops will be held to train faculty interested in learning about (and teaching) refugees and migrants. The College has also partnered with Brown University to create a faculty exchange program with that institution’s Middle East Studies program. The exchange program will allow Conn professors to spend a funded semester at Brown training in a new area and bring advanced graduate students from Brown to Conn’s campus to teach new courses that will expand the Global Islamic Studies curriculum.
“The Global Islamic Studies faculty are incredibly grateful to the Mellon Foundation for recognizing our hard work in creating an innovative program that offers students a rigorous, globally focused education that is also grounded in deep knowledge of specific regions and world languages,” said Associate Professor of History Eileen Kane, who serves as GIS director.
Conn’s GIS program is distinct from other academic programs that focus the study of Islam and Muslims exclusively on the Middle East or religion.
As Kane points out, most Americans associate Islam with the Middle East, but Muslims have lived all over the world for centuries, and less than 20 percent of Muslims today live in the Middle East. GIS engages broader issues relating to citizenship, public displays of religious difference in Europe, migration and anti-Muslim prejudice, as well as culture, literature, and the arts.
"With strengths in South Asia (where over one-third of the world's Muslims live) and Europe, as well as in migrations and cross-regional connections, the global focus of our curriculum allows students to see past national fictions that structure and often distort our understanding of world cultures and history."
In Spring 2019, GIS will hold an intensive, weekly Faculty Seminar in which they’ll collaborate to redesign the GIS gateway course to reflect Conn faculty’s collective expertise and provide a focused introduction to the vast subject of global Islam and to the GIS major.
“As an interdisciplinary program of our own creation, Global Islamic Studies has no canon and this means we get to choose the critical texts,” Kane said. “I think we're going to have a ball doing this work, and I can't wait for this chance to learn from my colleagues.”
As part of the GIS initiative, the Walter Commons will also host a faculty development seminar to support the expansion of globally networked courses focused on the impact of the worldwide refugee crisis on Muslim communities. Networked teaching—which leverages technology to connect classrooms to scholars, students and local organizations located in other parts of the world—has been piloted with great success in recent years, and the College plans to draw upon that experience to support GIS faculty teaching courses on Muslim refugees.
These new developments are a gratifying affirmation of progress for both the College and the Mellon Foundation, which first became involved in 2012 with a $100,000 planning grant to launch the GIS program. The goal was to create a trans-disciplinary program that would integrate existing faculty expertise on Islam dispersed across various academic departments and respond to students’ heightened interest in studying Islam post-9/11.
A Global Islamic Studies Working Group was already in place and working toward creating a program that would allow students to study Islam and the world’s Muslim communities in deep historical, comparative and global contexts. The working group faculty represented the departments of Art History and Architectural Studies, Classics, English, German Studies, Government and International Relations, History, Religious Studies and Sociology, whose research and teaching focused on Islam and Muslim communities across time and world regions, including Central Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, Russia and South Asia.
With the opening of the Walter Commons for Global Study and Engagement in January 2018, the integration of GIS into Connections, the College's reinvention of the liberal arts, comes at an opportune time. The new space, located in the center of campus, provides a physical place for GIS teaching and programming, and heightens the program’s visibility on campus.
Amy Dooling, associate dean of global initiatives, believes the growth of GIS will make a positive impact throughout the curriculum, and will especially boost language learning.
“Global education that is anchored in interdisciplinary inquiry, the study of world languages and cultures and engagement in diverse communities around the world is one of the College’s signature strengths,” Dooling said.
“This new grant from the Mellon Foundation offers a wonderful opportunity for GIS faculty to integrate the study of Islam and Muslims broadly into the curriculum, and I’m particularly excited that the project includes enhancing the GIS curriculum through FLAC (Foreign languages across the curriculum) and SILS (Structured Independent language study), both programs run through the Global Learning Lab in the Walter Commons.”