GAMBIER, Ohio (February 13, 2011)
Muslim homosexuality. Mystical poetry from the 13th century. And, yes, even in-your-face punk rockers.
It's all part of the flowering of Kenyon's multidisciplinary explorations into the world of Islam. An array of campus events this semester highlights the vitality of that exploration, both in and out of the classroom.
"We're one of just a handful of liberal arts colleges that offer anything like this," said Vernon Schubel, a religious studies professor and director of Kenyon's Islamic Civilization and Cultures Program. The program brings together faculty members and coursework in history, art, music, and Arabic language as well as religion. Students add energy through an active, enthusiastically inclusive Middle East Student Association. A two-year grant from the Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Languages (UISFL) program, meanwhile, has enabled the College to host a range of visitors.
Scott Kugle, a leading scholar on both homosexuality and Sufism in the Islamic world. He gave a lecture on sexuality, poetry, and Islamic mysticism. He also held an informal discussion with students and faculty, including students representing Unity House, Kenyon's center for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender activities, and students from the Middle East Student Association.
The Lian Ensemble, an acclaimed group of Iranian musicians based in Los Angeles, performed. "These performers are amazing virtuosos, world-class musicians at the top of their game," said Schubel.
The College had also screened Omar Majeed's documentary film Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam. The film-raising the prospect of an "anti-authoritarian, in-your-face Islam," as Schubel puts it-underscores the theme of the semester's events, "Islam's Diverse Paths."
"The events challenge our stereotypes, that all Muslims agree about all things, that all of Islam is in the Arab world," Schubel said. "We try to study the cultures where Muslims have played a prominent role, in all their diversity and complexity."
Diversity also underpins the Middle East Student Association (MESA), which has sponsored a busy schedule of lectures, films, and discussions since its founding in the spring of 2009. MESA also publishes a student-written journal every year. "The group has included Palestinian Americans, Jewish Americans, international students, and all sorts of other Kenyon students," said Tess Waggoner '13 of Maumee, Ohio, president of the organization. "Our goal is to increase the diversity of thought about Mideast issues."
Waggoner, whose mother is from a Coptic Christian family in Cairo, Egypt, is pursuing a joint major in religious studies and Asian studies, with a minor in philosophy and the concentration in Islamic civilization and cultures. In her language studies, she has advanced to intermediate Arabic. "Arabic was lost generationally in my family," she laughs. "I'm going back and grabbing it."
What has most impressed her, both in her coursework and in MESA, is the range of perspectives that Kenyon students offer. "Some students are interested in careers in foreign policy. There are also economics majors, people interested in gender issues, or military careers, or culture.
"There's more interest than ever," she said, "and Kenyon is responding."