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NEH awards the College of Humanities a $100,000 grant to develop new interdisciplinary minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the College of Humanities a $100,000 grant to develop a program and interdisciplinary minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (MEAIS). Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, a Professor in the Gender and Women’s Studies department, spearheaded the proposal for the grant and will direct the MEAIS program, which she hopes to debut as soon as the 2011/12 academic year.

Fulfillment of this longstanding dream won’t arrive a moment too soon. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life released a study in January asserting that the world’s Muslim population will grow twice as fast as non-Muslims over the next 20 years, at which time the study forecasts Muslims will account for more than a quarter of the world’s projected 8.3 billion people. In the United States, Muslims will double their share of the population, from 0.8% to 1.7%—about the same proportion currently held by Jews and Episcopalians.

More locally, Los Angeles is currently home to the largest Middle Eastern American community in the country—a statistic not expected to change—and over 600,000 Muslims live in Southern California. Despite this sizable presence, the history, politics, and culture of both majority and diaspora Middle Eastern and Muslim communities are largely unexamined and often misunderstood in the West. Tohidi believes that an undergraduate MEAIS program is sorely needed—and that CSUN is the perfect place to cultivate such a program. UCLA has an excellent Islamic Studies program, states Tohidi, who is also a Research Associate at the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA, but the emphasis of that program is on the graduate level, and demographics at UCLA are less representative of the local population than at CSUN—which ranks 12th in the nation overall in baccalaureate degrees conferred to minority students. “This minor will meet a great need among the diverse student body of CSUN,” says Tohidi, “especially its large [numbers of] Hispanic, Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim students of Iranian, Afghan, Turkic, Arab, and South Asian backgrounds.”

The emphasis of the MEAIS interdisciplinary minor, to be housed in the College of Humanities’ Office of Interdisciplinary Programs, will be on the languages, history, literatures, politics, sociology, anthropology, and culture of Muslims in majority nations, particularly the greater Middle East, though the program will be inclusive of all Islamic societies, including areas in which Muslims have minority representation, such as North America, Europe, China, and India. The program seeks to prepare interested students for careers as translators, interpreters, diplomats, international businesspeople, journalists, negotiators, scholars, and Foreign Service officers.

Among the first MEAIS core courses Tohidi plans to introduce are classes examining the Sufism movement; women in Islamic literature; and gender issues among North American Muslim communities. Also envisioned are annual conferences, cultural events, film festivals, visiting scholars, and public lecture series geared toward students, faculty, and the surrounding CSUN community. In CSUN’s MEAIS program, Tohidi sees an opportunity for the University to act as a local and national force in cross-cultural bridge building and interreligious dialogue. With ever-changing demographics at home and abroad, such increased understanding of Middle Eastern and Muslim communities is a timely and necessary pursuit.

— Submitted by Teresa K. Morrison

In Memoriam: Howard J. Happ, 1942 – 2011

Professor Emeritus Howard Happ died on March 27, 2011. Howard taught in the Department of Religious Studies from 1971 to 2005. He came to CSUN with four graduate degrees: from the University of Chicago, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Princeton University. His principal areas of scholarship and teaching were in the histories of British and American religions. One of his generative contributions to thought was his original application of theories by the British anthropologist Mary Douglas regarding the symbolization of the human body to ethical and ritual differences among American religions. He also brought to his conversation with colleagues and students wide-ranging knowledge in languages, music, Greco-Roman history, and classic Chinese civilization. His scholarly familiarity with 17th-century English history was dazzling. Colleagues and students alike recognized him as a brilliant and capacious intellectual. In addition to his teaching in Religious Studies, Howard was a pioneer in several interdisciplinary efforts at CSUN, including the Human Sexuality Program and the NEH Liberal Arts Project. Through his labors as an Episcopal priest, his service to the community was vast. Tirelessly and persuasively arguing from a traditionalist standpoint, Howard was a leading proponent of the ordination of women. He wrote an important history of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. He guided many newer clergy and was a mentor and friend to Joseph Jon Bruno, the Bishop Diocesan. A lifelong diarist, Howard’s records indicate that over the years he sponsored discussions for hundreds of students at his home, was a godfather to over 30 children (most being children of former students), and wrote a river of thoughtful and insightful letters to friends from every part of America. Howard was beset with medical problems in recent years, but he remained a generous, witty, and intellectually alive person. His smile was stirring. His friendship and humor were treasures.


“This minor will meet a great need among the diverse student body of CSUN,” says Tohidi, “especially its large [numbers of] Hispanic, Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim students of Iranian, Afghan, Turkic, Arab, and South Asian backgrounds.”