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May 30, 2002

Pitt plans to add faculty, courses in Islamic, related areas of study

Pitt is a leader in international education, but its weakness in Islamic studies became glaringly apparent in the wake of Sept. 11.

To help address those shortcomings, the University plans to offer several new undergraduate courses beginning next spring, ranging from "Introduction to Islamic Civilization" to "The Balkan Conflicts of the 1990s."

Pitt's Center for Russian and East European Studies (REES) hopes to use its share of increased federal Title VI funding — money that Congress has earmarked for Islamic studies — to fund three temporary faculty appointments, as well as lectures and seminars on the Muslim world.

In addition, Pitt is working with other local colleges and universities to form an Islamic studies regional consortium, said William Brustein, director of the University Center for International Studies.

"The goal is to create a program through which our students could take advantage of courses on Islam being offered at the various universities — Pitt, Duquesne, Carnegie Mellon, Chatham, Robert Morris, La Roche," Brustein said. "It's a long-range project, but it would be one way of addressing the scholarly weakness we have here with respect to the Islamic world and the Middle East."

To teach new courses planned for next spring, Pitt has hired one non-tenure track faculty member and is recruiting at least two more.

Esra Ozyurek will begin a three-year appointment this fall as a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. Ozyurek will teach about religion, nationalism and politics in the Middle East, especially her native Turkey.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean's office had approved adding a position prior to Sept. 11, to assume teaching duties of anthropology faculty who will be on leave or away doing research, said department chairperson Robert D. Drennan.

"This is an appointment that strengthens our existing focus on ethnicity, nationalism and the state," Drennan said. "We could have hired someone who specializes in these issues in some other geographical region. But the Middle East is an especially appropriate area to focus on, given the heightened interest in the Islamic world following Sept. 11."

Ozyurek recently received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

Marc David Baer, an Ottoman Empire specialist and Ozyurek's husband, tentatively is scheduled to teach two courses here next spring: a lower-level history course, "Introduction to Islamic Civilization" (cross-listed with the religious studies department) and an upper-level religious studies course (cross-listed with history) on "Religion and Politics in the Middle East."

Baer has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. His position would be funded by Pitt's REES center with Title VI money.

"We're trying to work out a deal to see if we can add Marc Baer as a non-tenure stream faculty member for a three-year period or so," said Alexander Orbach, acting chairperson of the religious studies department. "His wife does have an appointment in anthropology, and the fact that [Baer] will be here too is a real opportunity for us to gain someone with expertise in Islamic civilization, Ottoman history and various aspects of religion and politics in the Middle East."

Pitt is expected to hire Xavier Bougarel to a one-term appointment next spring to teach two upper-level political science courses: "Islam and Contemporary Europe" and "The Balkan Conflicts of the 1990s." Bougarel currently is a political scientist in the Turkish and Ottoman Studies unit of France's premier social science institute, the National Center for Scientific Research.

"Although Xavier is a relatively young guy — he received his Ph.D. in 1998 — he's got field experience with Muslims in the Balkans dating back to 1990," said REES center director Robert M. Hayden. "He's published a number of books and articles" about Muslims in that part of the world.

Like Baer's appointment, Bougarel's would be funded by the REES center's Title VI money. However, arts and sciences Dean N. John Cooper "hasn't formally signed off on either appointment yet, so technically they're still not official at this point," Hayden said.

The University Times could not reach Cooper for comment.

In response to Sept. 11's terrorist attacks and the widespread perception that Americans should learn more about the Islamic world, the U.S. Congress added $4 million — nearly all of it earmarked for Islamic studies — to the $23 million in Title VI funding that the Department of Education already had appropriated for this year to national resource centers such as Pitt's REES, Asian studies, Latin American studies and Western European studies centers.

REES was the only one of Pitt's four area studies centers to receive extra funding. Hayden declined to say how much money his center is getting. But he said it will be enough to fund the appointments next year of Baer, Bougarel and an as-yet-unnamed visiting instructor of Bosnian literature from the University of Sarajevo, as well as related programs on the Muslim world.

"For example," Hayden said, "I'm meeting next week with members of the Asian Studies Program about the possibility of our programs co-sponsoring a series of lectures and seminars next year on Islamic cultures linked to the Silk Roads. That would cover Islam in eastern China and southern Asia, through central Asia and into Turkey and the Balkans."

Delighted with his center's Title VI windfall, Hayden said: "Usually, trying to find $1,000 [toward hiring a faculty member] is impossible. Suddenly, I can pretend I'm NYU or Harvard or Stanford for a while. I've actually got some real money for a change."

The need for more teaching and research on the Muslim world existed at many U.S. universities prior to Sept. 11; unfortunately, it took the terrorist attacks to convince Congress to fund such scholarship, Hayden said. "Believe me, Congress wouldn't have done something that they wouldn't have thought of. And they wouldn't have thought of [funding teaching and research on Islam] if it had not been for Sept. 11."

Pitt decided decades ago — based on its existing expertise, rival universities' strengths and the federal government's Cold War funding priorities — to concentrate its international studies on Latin America, western Europe, Asia and Russia/eastern Europe, areas not noted (except for Indonesia, Pakistan, India, China and some of the former Soviet republics) as hotbeds of Islam.

"No university can cover the world," Hayden pointed out. But Pitt has great potential to improve Islamic studies here, he said, as long as the University doesn't focus on lands directly involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"There would be no reason for a competent Middle Eastern specialist to come here because we have no library, no community of colleagues in that area," Hayden said. "But a Turkish specialist like Esra Ozyurek or someone who is an expert on central Asia or the Balkans will find scholarly support and library facilities here."

— Bruce Steele

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