Several years ago, faculty at Queen’s University began discussions together and with the administration about enhancing teaching and research about Islam, the Middle East, the Muslim world globally, and about issues related to the experience of new Muslim communities in “the West,” including Canada. A distinctive approach was developed that envisioned the interrelationships between these topics across history, geography and disciplinary method. To reflect the diversity of experiences beyond a regional focus, the project has been named “Muslim Societies, Global Perspectives.”
One primary concern was language preparation for undergraduate and graduate students with interests in these areas. Ample student interest became evident when a student petition for Arabic language classes garnered over 2000 signatures! The Faculty of Arts and Science provided initial funding for a three year position that established first and second year Arabic language courses at Queen’s for the first time in 2008. Thanks to the Principal’s office, two additional years of funding, through 2012-13, were guaranteed to continue the classes and support extracurricular and cultural content to enhance the Arabic program. Language is a crucial and fundamental tool for understanding cultures and societies from any perspective. Arabic was the choice for the first new language classes because it is spoken by 300 million people globally and is the language of foundational religious texts and scripture for over a billion Muslims. However, most Muslims are not, in fact, Arabs and speak a variety of languages natively, from Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Malay, Swahili to English and Chinese. Arabic language was just the start.
The Muslims Societies, Global Perspectives initiative always had a wider conception. And, with further support in the shape of a modest grant from the Principal and Provost’s offices, it has recently begun more public activity in 2011-12, with a series of talks on contemporary affairs and research lectures. For details, see our events page and our initial newsletter.
At this point, we intend to expand these public activities, secure support for the successful Arabic program, and to establish programs to further support teaching and research on Muslim societies and cultures at Queen’s University.