Geneseo needs more coursework relating to Islamic world


he interest that many Geneseo students and faculty have expressed in a more culturally diverse curriculum is well-documented. 

More professors that specialize in non-Western subject matter seem to be in high demand across disciplines, and many have called for the Curricular Working Group to consider a shift away from the “Western” in Western Humanities, including a Lamron columnist on Thursday April 6. 

These requests should be considered in the coming years, as the administration looks to make curriculum changes. In doing so, Geneseo must also make a concerted effort to have more classes that concern the Islamic World. 

The Islamic World could be defined loosely as a region ranging from Spain and Northern Africa, to Pakistan and Southeastern Asia. The Islamic World has been home to billions of people, more than a thousand years of rich history and a plethora of complex cultures. While this definition includes some facets of Islamic doctrine, it is not exclusively defined by theology any more than the West is defined by Christian theology. 

To its credit, Geneseo has recently made some faculty hires who specialize in the Islamic World, including assistant professor of history Megan Brankley Abbas in Fall 2015 and a new specialist in the Middle East for the political science department starting in Fall 2017.

Both are eminently capable professors by all accounts—but they can only cover so many courses in their own departments. Departments of English, philosophy, sociology, art history and geography could all add faculty or courses to better include studies of the Islamic World. 

As a college with limited resources, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to question the need for more courses on the Islamic World. Some might similarly argue that studies of the region wouldn’t fit that well with studies of the rest of the world already at Geneseo. 

Both critiques likely come from the belief many people have that the West and the Islamic World are inherently separate.

The division between the West and the non-West is not nearly as pronounced as some make it out to be. Many Muslim scholars have had real and direct influences on foundational understandings of Western texts in a detailed history of cultural diffusion and exchange. 

Eleventh century Persian scholar Ibn Sina (Avicenna) is known as an incredibly important figure in the history of Western medicine, with major contributions to astronomy, geology, psychology and other fields. 

Twelfth century Andalusian scholar Ibn Rushd similarly made detailed translations and analyses of Aristotle’s writings, which were then translated back into Latin during the European Renaissance and enlightened many Western scholars. 

The work of these scholars, as well as others, has fundamentally affected the way that the rest of the world understands itself and is clearly worth studying. 

Increasing efforts to teach about the Islamic World would also fit into the values of learning, creativity, inclusivity, civic responsibility and sustainability that Geneseo mentions with its mission statement. 

Such a large region—with impacts on the history, culture and current political discourse of the West and the world—should receive more than the representation that it has received at Geneseo. 

Of course, some enterprising professors and departments have taken it upon themselves to emphasize the importance of texts, like the Quran or scholars like Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd—but there needs to be some larger institutional change. 

As different departments look toward restructuring and as the college looks toward curricular change, faculty and students should consider the importance of recognizing the Islamic World through greater scholarship.