Exploring Islamic CultureGAMBIER, Ohio (June 23, 2008) Kenyon is poised to develop a liberal arts model for the integrated study of Islamic civilization.
Vernon Schubel has made an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Islamic culture his goal as the recently named National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Professor of Religious Studies. Schubel will carry that mantle for four years, beginning his project in the 2009-10 academic year.
"We really have to come to the recognition that our heritage can no longer be considered a simply Western heritage," Schubel said. "It's a global heritage. There is an interconnection between different civilizations. It's been about trade, about ideas, about politics. And I'm hoping to help students at Kenyon have a greater understanding of the role that Muslims and the civilization of Islam have had in constructing that global heritage."
Schubel's approach to developing a model for the holistic study of Islamic civilization starts with campus-wide dialogue. He projects a speaker and performance series, bringing Muslim scholars, writers, and musicians to the campus.
Weekend reading and discussions groups, specific to Islamic literature, and summer faculty symposia are also goals. The symposia would include Kenyon faculty as well as scholars from other liberal arts colleges, who will focus discussions on the topics of Islam and literature and Islam in global history.
Schubel also intends to develop a new seminar on Islam in America that will complement his seminar on Voices of Contemporary Islam.
Provost Gregory Spaid said the NEH professorship has a history of sustained contribution to the College, including the evolution of the Rural Life Center under the guidance of Howard Sacks, professor of sociology and senior advisor to President S. Georgia Nugent.
"I think our hope would be that something will go beyond the three years of the project," Spaid said. "We hope that what Vernon does will have a lasting impact." Student interest in the Middle East and in the study of Arabic indicates a need for broader cultural studies, Spaid said.
The proper approach to Islamic studies goes beyond learning about Islamic culture to learning from it, Schubel said.
"The study of the Islamic world desperately needs the kind of humanistic world view that is at the heart of institutions like Kenyon," he said. "This generation of students is ready to make that leap.
"My hope is that we can set Kenyon out there as a place that is really attempting to make the study of Islam a crucial part of a liberal arts education," Schubel said. "We can become a leader in how to do this."
Schubel joined the faculty in 1988. He teaches a range of courses on Islam, including Classical Islam, Islam in Central Asia, and Sufism.
The NEH professorship is awarded through a competitive process that involves submission of a proposal to a selection committee.