“Our knowledge, as an American public, of Arab studies—that is to say our knowledge of the Arab world—is primarily informed by a politicized discourse, and this politicization of the Arab world leads to a lot of misinformation.”
Assistant Professor Emran El-Badawi says the diverse city of Houston is connected, commercially and culturally, to the Arab world. Now students at the University of Houston can learn about that world in the new minor in Arab studies, which he will direct.
“I like to think of it as an understanding of the contribution of the classical and modern Arab societies to our world today,” he said. “So this subsumes a study of language, literature, culture, but also a more nuanced discussion of political science, philosophy and law.”
The interdisciplinary minor will be housed in the UH Department of Modern and Classical Languages. It will require 18 hours, half of which must be in Arabic language courses, the other half from a selection of content courses in English. Students may choose from such topics as, “Modern Middle East,” and “Qur’an as Literature.”
“The city of Houston is tied to other cities in the Arab world, certainly for commercial interests, and that manifests itself culturally, and it should also manifest itself in the educational structure of the city,” he said. “Some would say it’s the right time, some would say we’re overdue to have a study of the Arab world at the UH.”
El-Badawi is the first tenure-track appointment in Arabic studies in the history of UH. The range of study for the minor reaches from the jurist Averroes to the poet Gibran and is intended for the heritage speaker to the curious student.
“The hope is that both these kinds of students will be transformed by this minor to think academically and critically about the Arab world, to challenge their assumptions and to build bridges between the U.S. and Arab worlds at a time when this dialogue is desperately needed,” El-Badawi said.
Emran El-Badawi is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston. I’m Marisa Ramirez.