Muslim studies grows

As part of the course offerings for the Muslim studies option, students will soon be able to take classes that overcome the constraints of borders.

A new partnership has been created with Sehir University in Istanbul, in which students from both campuses will listen to lectures and do work through video-conferencing technology.

“I’m very, very interested in breaking through the physical barriers of education,” said Michel Desjardins, the associate dean, research and curriculum, for the faculty of arts.

The course, MZ200, Introduction to Muslim studies, aims at providing students with a broader worldview of how Islam appears in different cultures. Although it’s not in place right now, there are also hopes that it could be expanded to include a summer exchange option in the future.

The point, Desjardins assured, is not to “exotify” a distant culture, but to draw attention to different perspectives.

“To go and learn with Muslims who live in a Muslim-dominant culture is a completely different experience that a lot of individuals here, either who are Muslim or non-Muslim taking this course, don’t have that experience of living,” he said.

“It will introduce them to various aspects of what being Muslim means to people around the world,” added Gavin Brockett, a history professor who will be teaching the course.

He continued, “To have a partner in Turkey that is willing to work with us is wonderful. The students there are just like students here, so it’ll be a great opportunity to cut across boundaries, borders and for students to realize that in this globalized world, there’s actually not much that separates them.”

Brockett has colleagues at Tehir University, which helped to facilitate the partnership, and also found it had many similarities to Laurier’s academic profile.

All courses there are also taught in English.

This isn’t the first time a videoconferencing class has been offered at Laurier. Last year, global studies students had the opportunity to participate in a course offered in conjunction with Ashesi University in Ghana.

However, slow internet connections between the universities posed problems for cross-cultural exchange.

“That particular course could have been a lot more effective, but the idea of bringing students together was interesting,” said Desjardins.

“I think the technology will improve, year-by-year.”

Connectivity at Sehir University is considered to be suitable for the program.

Brockett says he is “very aware of the problems and the potential that go along with the technology” and has designed the course to allow students to interact even in the instance that video-conferencing is unavailable.

Students will be able to chat with one another online and also collaborate on projects in their own time.

“The idea really is that they build a relationship … and it’s not simply the classroom, audio-visual connection that’s important,” he explained. “Students here will have the opportunity to learn with them and most importantly get a very different perspective from the Kitchener-Waterloo view of things.”

The Muslim studies option is a four credit component available to all faculty of arts students that draws on faculty from a number of different departments, including sociology, religion and culture, and others.

The MZ200 course will be offered in the fall of 2014 as one of two core courses for the option. Enrolment is still open.

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