Classes on Islam generate interest

by Alexandra Friedman | 9/27/01 5:00am

As CNN continues to use terms like "Islamic fundamentalism" and "Jihad," many Dartmouth students are rushing to find out what exactly these words mean.

In order to fully understand the deeper religious and cultural significances of the current crisis, many students have opted to broaden their knowledge on the topic, and as a result, enrollment in classes about Islamic ideology, current events in the Middle East and the Arabic language have skyrocketed.

Arabic 01's enrollment has doubled this fall, and Religion 16, a class entitled "Modern Islam," was speculated by Professor Kevin Reinhart to have increased by as much as 30 percent. Also, Asian & Middle Eastern Languages and Literature 16, "Intro to the Islamic World," has shown a 27 percent increase in student enrollment since the last time it was offered.

Reportedly, "Introduction to the Islamic World" and "The Arab-Israeli Conflict," two other classes pertaining to the Middle East, have also been over-enrolled.

"The [Islamic World] class with Professor Garthwaite was overflowing to the point that we are planning on changing rooms for the next class," Elisheva Miriam Hirshman-Green '04 said. "I think the popularity of the course must be due to the current crisis -- that's why I'm signed up."

The Arabic department has recently been concentrating a lot of resources into expanding and improving its department -- one possible reason for the enormous jump in enrollment. Yet the current crisis has also played a huge role in exciting an interest in the subject matter, Chair of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures Dennis Washburn said: "It is clear to me that the shock of that incident has generated a lot of interest."

As opposed to the usual 12 to 15 students that enroll in Arabic 01, this fall the class has already enrolled 24 and also has 11 students who wish to audit the class.

"We have the largest enrollment in Arabic that we've ever had," Washburn commented. "The more difficult languages -- those that aren't centered on Latin America or Europe -- require a bit more of a commitment, and interest and enrollment are often times driven by external events. Enrollments go in waves."

A class that places special emphasis on "topics of current controversy," according to the Dartmouth Organizations, Regulations, and Courses (the ORC), Religion 16 also has seen many new interested faces. This class has a curriculum that can be modified to address the current global situation.

"I'm going to raise this issue [of the Sept. 11 tragedy] and talk about how it puts the class under a cloud and makes it more of a challenge for the students, but it also makes it more important," Reinhart commented before his first class yesterday.

After the first class met, Reinhart speculated that the rise in enrollment was "connected to current events and to peoples' perception that the picture they're getting from the media isn't as thick or complex as to satisfy them."

As excited as these professors are to share their insight on their topics of specialty, this sudden rise in enrollment has lead to a feeling of neglect in the past at Dartmouth College.

"Those of us in non-western studies here think that it should be a central part of the liberal arts curriculum and Dartmouth has not always reflected that in its curricular offerings," Reinhart said. "I think it's making progress in that direction -- enrollments show that students are increasingly interested in the field."

Washburn echoed similar concerns: "There's simply no question that, not just at this college, but across the nation, we've been very negligent about these areas and have to pump more resources into them."