Beginning this fall, students will have the opportunity to minor in Islamic studies, allowing them to explore the religion, culture, and history of one of the world’s largest religions. The minor will be available at both Lincoln Center and Rose Hill.
“We would like to bring students into the Islamic world and introduce them to important aspects of faith and philosophy, history, politics, all of it,” said Kathryn Kueny, Ph.D., professor of theology and director of Fordham’s Middle East studies and religious studies programs, who helped launch the minor.
Sarah Eltantawi, Ph.D., associate professor of modern Islam in the Department of Theology, said that one of the main goals of the interdisciplinary minor is to get students to understand all parts of Islam.
“Islam is not just a religion, it’s a civilizational complex. So when you learn Islam, you’re learning a whole different approach to the world and a whole different history, a whole different way of experiencing things,” she said.
Eltantawi said that she believed the minor would help students learn how to “look at things from different paradigms,” which is a translatable skill.
The minor, which started this fall, will require students to take six courses. They must take at least one on Islamic sacred texts and foundations; one on Islamic theology, history, or philosophy; and one on Islamic arts, culture, and politics. Students can choose their remaining three courses from any of these areas or take an Arabic language class as an elective.
Courses offered include Classic Islamic Texts; Islamic Art; Medicine and Healing in Islam; Women, Gender, and Islam; and Islam, Art, and Resistance.
“So we tried to provide opportunities for students to experience Islam from cultural or political, linguistic, theological, philosophical perspectives, so they would get kind of a taste of all those different areas,” Kueny said.
Eltantawi said that there were a lot of existing courses at Fordham that fit these areas.
“I felt like a lot of our work was a matter of just seeing what already exists at Fordham, what classes already are being taught, already in the bulletin. And we have many faculty, many of whom were very hungry to do this, so it was a matter of us really organizing them,” she said.
Both Eltantawi and Kueny emphasized the student support for this program.
“It was student-driven, so students have approached us both saying, ‘We’re taking all of these classes in Islamic studies, but there’s no way to earn a degree or formalize it in any way,’” Eltantawi said.
About 5% of Fordham undergraduate students said they were Muslim. Eltantawi said that she had both Catholic and Muslim students approach her and ask her to “take action and create more of a formalized Islamic studies at Fordham.”
The Minor as a First Step
Eltantawi called the minor a “first big step” toward giving students the opportunity to engage with Islamic Studies, both locally and globally.
“There’s a pretty thriving Islamic Studies scene in New York. We’re just getting started, there’s really a lot we can do,” she said.
Kueny noted that some of the classes eligible for the Islamic studies minor are community engaged learning courses that allow students to work with and learn from partner organizations, and she hopes more like this can be added. She also noted that one of the goals is to help students get a global understanding of Islam.
“Muslims live all over the world—in China, in South America, in Mexico everywhere—so [we hope]to bring that kind of global approach to Islamic studies as well, that it’s not just something that’s located in the Middle East but all over the world,” she said.
Eltantawi said that there will be welcome events for the minor in both the fall and spring semester to give students more information.