CSUN to Offer Minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in the Fall

The Sufism movement, the fundamentals of the Persian language, Israel’s history and peoples, Muslims and the media, and gender, sexuality and Islam in the U.S. are just a few of the topics planned for the soon-to-be launched minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (MEIS) at California State University, Northridge.

Nayereh Tohidi, a professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, presenting information about the then-proposed MEIS at a symposium last fall. Photo by Lee Choo.

The new program is scheduled to debut fall 2012 as part of an interdisciplinary program housed in the College of Humanities. The program will provide students access to courses in the languages, histories, religions, cultures, sociology and politics of the Middle East.

Program officials say this is particularly important at CSUN, which serves Los Angeles, home to the largest Middle Eastern American community in the country.

“This is the fulfillment of a long-standing dream to create a program that will be diverse and inclusive of all cultures throughout the Middle East,” said Nayereh Tohidi, a professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies who has been working on this project since 2005 and is directing the MEIS initiative.

She said the program also will seek to enhance students’ understanding of Islamic cultures and Muslim communities both internationally and within the United States.

The launch of the program has been made possible by a $100,000 grant from National Endowment for the Humanities.

Cal State Northridge will offer the only program in the region that allows undergraduates to minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. UCLA offers a similar, graduate-level program. Among those expected to be served by the program are students interested in becoming scholars, journalists, translators, interpreters, diplomats, businesspersons, negotiators and personnel in foreign offices. Some of the courses in the MEIS program satisfy general education requirements or may be used as electives in several majors.

CSUN laid the foundation for the launch of the program last fall with a two-day symposia on “The Middle East Across the Curriculum.” The college invited experts in Middle Eastern studies to speak to faculty, staff and students about MEIS as a field of study. Some of those in attendance included California State University, Fresno Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Vida Samiian. Her college already offers a minor in Middle East Studies.

Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan and expert on the West and the Muslim world, served as the keynote speaker. He said there has been a surge in the interest in the study of the Middle East and Islam since the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“A lot of faculty members are getting interested. This has become a very, very productive time,” Cole said.

There is also an increased interest with the “coming of age” of the offspring of Middle Easterners, he added. “These communities are growing.”

CSUN’s program will include the study of Middle Eastern countries of Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Palestine as well as the study of Muslim communities in South and Southeast Asia and North Africa.

For more information on the MEIS minor, visit www.csun.edu/meis.


California State University, Northridge is a regionally focused, nationally recognized university serving more than 34,000 full- and part-time students in the San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas. Founded in 1958, Cal State Northridge is among the largest universities in the nation and is ranked among the top universities for bachelor’s degrees awarded to minority students. It has nine colleges and more than 2,000 faculty members who teach courses leading to bachelor’s degrees in 69 disciplines, master’s degrees in 58 fields and doctorates in education and physical therapy, as well as 28 teaching credential programs. Continuously evolving and changing to meet the needs of California and the nation at large, the university is home to dozens of acclaimed programs where students gain valuable hands-on experience working alongside faculty and industry professionals, whether in the sciences, health care and engineering or education, political science, the arts and the social sciences.

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