New Islamic Studies Program Receives Approval
Initiative Strengthened by Mellon Foundation Support
by Nancy Nicely
Swarthmore's new Islamic Studies program received formal approval from the faculty this spring. Students may now minor in the interdisciplinary program, which focuses on the diverse range of lived experiences and textual traditions of Muslims as they are articulated in various countries and regions throughout the world. It draws on a variety of fields, including religion, anthropology, history, and Arabic language and literature to shed light on the multiple expressions of Islam as a religious tradition, the role of Islamic civilization as a force in global history, and the importance of Islamic discourses in the contemporary world.
"The interdisciplinary program in Islamic Studies serves a crucial function in the liberal arts curriculum by providing a framework for students to develop a meaningful understanding of the multiple ways in which Islam has shaped human experience both past and present," says Constance Cain Hungerford, provost and Mari S. Michener Professor of Art History.
Islamic Studies will be further strengthened by the teaching of Middle Eastern history and politics, made possible by a $645,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will provide annual funds for a three-year visiting professorship and the seeds of an endowment for a permanent position. The search to fill the visiting position will begin in the fall.
The Mellon Foundation has been a key supporter of the College's commitment to Islamic Studies and Arabic. Previous grants include a $2.1 million endowment grant to Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr Colleges, critical to the establishment of the tri-college Arabic program; $100,000 to support the teaching of Arabic at Swarthmore prior to the tri-co program; and a $150,000 endowment gift that continues to generate distributions for Islamic Studies.
Additional key supporters of the program include Bruce Jay Gould '54, who pledged $1 million to establish an endowed fund to support courses and other activities related to the study of Islam through Arabic language, religion, political science, history, and sociology and anthropology. Paul and Asma Qureshi Fischer also made a $1 million gift in memory of their son, Tariq Fischer '08, who died in 2005 in an automobile accident near his home in Georgia.