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An eye-opening experience



Amal Hamada is spending this semester as a Fulbright Scholar in Residence in Arabic Culture and Politics.

Amal Hamada arrived at Lehigh University in July, while the campus was quiet and still resting from the previous academic year. Traveling from Egypt with her three children, Hamada settled in Bethlehem where she’s spending the semester as a Fulbright Scholar in Residence in Arabic Culture and Politics through the Department of Modern Languages and Literature.

Now, with the semester in full swing, Hamada is busily offering her expertise and bringing a fresh voice on the Middle East, Arabic-speaking cultures, and Islam to the Lehigh and local communities. Hamada, an associate professor of economics and political science at the University of Cairo, speaks not only from her research, but from her own background as a Middle Eastern woman.

Dr. Amal Hamada is bringing a new awareness of Arabic-speaking cultures and politics to our campus and the surrounding community,” said Marie-Hélène Chabut, professor of French and chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature. “This is all the more crucial in the context of Lehigh’s current efforts to internationalize and diversify its campus and curriculum and to formalize the strategies laid out in ‘Getting to Global Lehigh.’”

“This is an excellent opportunity for me to extend my knowledge and experiences as a teacher,” says Hamada. “This is a growing university in terms of international affiliation and has an ambitious program in Islamic studies.”

Hamada is teaching an undergraduate course entitled Dialogue on Democracy in the Arab World, which examines the cultural and political ideologies of the Middle East and discusses issues related to the Arabic and Islamic application of their own democracy that does not have to match the western liberal democracy. She says her students, who come from different academic disciplines approach the course content with diverse perspectives and reactions.

“Many students are reacting to the course as an eye-opening experience,” Hamada says. “It exposes them to new ideas and new ways of dealing with questions that are perceived as already answered. It demonstrates a need for more understanding and more information.”

But Hamada is quick to admit that it has been an eye-opening experience for her as well. Passionate about teaching, she says a new group of students with new attitudes and backgrounds tests her not only as an educator, as also on a social and political level as well.

The experience has also been a bit of culture shock for her three children ages 14, 12 and 11, who are all in the U.S. for the first time. As a Fulbright Scholar, and hoping to bring a new awareness of Arabic-speaking cultures to the surrounding community, Hamada is talking to local organizations and students. A recent visit to her son’s Bethlehem-area elementary school allowed Hamada to share information on the traditions and practices of Ramadan.

Hamada is also sharing her expertise through a series of lectures. As an expert on Iranian politics she’s frequently tapped to help shed light on questions about its political system and its relationship to the U.S. She hosted a lecture co-sponsored by the Global Union and the department of Modern Languages and Literature on Iranian views of the U.S., a well-attended event that she says prompted strong discussion.

Her next lecture, on Wednesday, November 5, will be open to the public and will address “Women in the Middle East: A Look from the Inside.” According to Hamada, women represent 50 percent of the Middle Eastern population. She’ll put that into context as she discusses women’s contributions to development and democracy in the Middle East from a comparative perspective, and highlight the main obstacles to their playing a more active role in their respective societies. The free public lecture will take place at 4 p.m. in 102 Maginnes Hall.

“Dr. Hamada’s area of expertise is a perfect fit for us since we were looking for someone who would bring a non-western perspective to our students and challenge them to look beyond familiar U.S.-focused concerns and media reports as well as learn to see the complexities of social and political issues of modernity and change in countries and cultures in the Arabic-speaking world,” says Chabut.

--Tricia Long


Posted on Monday, November 03, 2008

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