The Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the planning phase of UCLA’s first multidisciplinary freshman cluster course on the Middle East.
“CNES is honored to receive this grant, which will enable the center and its associated faculty to develop a new comprehensive approach to learning about the Middle East,” said CNES Director Ali Behdad, John Charles Hillis Chair in Literature at UCLA. Behdad has extensive experience in curriculum review and design, as well as team teaching, having led a complete curriculum reform of UCLA’s English department courses thanks to two Mellon grants he was awarded when he was chair there.
The yearlong freshman course —three 6-unit courses spread over UCLA’s fall, winter and spring quarters —will be offered annually. The fall and winter sessions will explore at least four in-depth modules on nonpolitical aspects of Middle Eastern culture, for example, the arts, history, literature, science or society, with the goal of showcasing the region’s vibrant history of cross-cultural exchange, pluralism, and artistic and cultural movements. The classroom component will be followed in the spring quarter with a capstone project consisting of a directed student research project related to the course topics.
The course will be taught by a team of faculty and graduate students from a wide spectrum of disciplines, led by Asma Sayeed, an associate professor of Asian Languages and Cultures who teaches in the Islamic Studies Program. The teaching team will aim both to create a new blueprint for Middle East studies at UCLA and provide a model to disseminate to other academic institutions.
The new model will expand discourse about the Middle East beyond sociopolitical topics in order to achieve more sustained engagement with the complexities of this culturally dynamic region and its offshoots in the U.S. Highlighting diverse scholarship from such fields as critical historiography, humanistic social science, literature and visual culture, the initiative will challenge fossilized views of the region and advance a more nuanced understanding of the contemporary Middle East.
Since the cluster will offer a substantial number of credits toward General Education course requirements at UCLA, CNES anticipates an eager audience of freshmen from all academic disciplines, including the sciences and professional schools, whose attendance will expand their humanities fluency.