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Mellon Foundation gives $1.4 million to support global Islamic studies program



Lehigh received a $1.4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of an undergraduate program in global Islamic studies.

The modern Islamic world is a growing area of interest and attention. While much of the focus on the Muslim population has been centered on the Middle East, 85 percent of today’s 1.3 billion Muslims live outside the Middle East—mostly in Asia. In order to help heighten awareness surrounding Islamic culture and civilization, Lehigh University is creating opportunities for individuals to learn about the multifaceted Muslim world.

Lehigh received a $1.4 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of an undergraduate program in global Islamic studies. The grant, which is funded under the foundation’s Liberal Arts Colleges Program, is the first step in establishing a new Center for Global Islamic Studies.

Recognizing the need for enhanced insight into Islamic culture and civilization, Lehigh will create a broad-based curriculum that offers students in any of its undergraduate colleges the opportunity to learn about diverse and dynamic Islamic cultures and societies.

“With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we will be able to establish a comparative, interdisciplinary program in Islamic studies that will provide students with the perspective to be leaders in the increasingly interconnected world they will live and work in,” says Lehigh University President Alice P. Gast, who first outlined a vision for the program during her 2007 inauguration.

The new program will look beyond the perspectives of religion, politics and geography and adopt a comparative approach to Muslim communities throughout the world, both past and present. This will allow successive generations of students to gain the necessary perspective to contribute to the broader dialogues and discussions that are shaping the world.

The program will tap the expertise of faculty in other focal areas such as philosophy, the arts, international relations, language and literature, history, sociology, anthropology, and economics.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant will fund a professor of practice in Arabic language, literature, and culture, support visiting faculty, create pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships, as well as fund research and library acquisitions.

These learning opportunities speak directly to a growing area of academic interest among Lehigh undergraduates. Student demand for Arabic language instruction has grown significantly over the last four years, with the curriculum expanding from two courses with 42 students in 2004-2005 to four courses with 72 students. Meanwhile, enrollment in a variety of courses on Islam through the religion studies department has steadily increased.

“This integrated and innovative undergraduate program will expose students to the rich history, diverse culture, and profound impact Islam has on our global society,” says Anne Meltzer, the Herbert and Ann Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Lehigh is graduating a pool of students that are working in disparate fields in diverse settings. The knowledge gained can only aid students in their future pursuits.”

The program also furthers the university’s commitment to making international experiences a hallmark of a Lehigh education. Student interest in international experience has led to a 23 percent rise in undergraduate study abroad since 2001-2002.

“This grant will allow us to invite scholars and fellows from diverse national and disciplinary backgrounds who will be a tremendous asset in Lehigh's efforts to diversify and internationalize its curriculum and to bring awareness of different world views to its students,” says Marie-Hélène Chabut, professor of French and chair of the department of modern languages and literature.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation currently makes grants in six core program areas: higher education and scholarship, scholarly communications, research in information technology, museums and art conservation, performing arts, and conservation and the environment. Institutions and programs receiving support are often leaders in fields of Foundation activity.

The Foundation has generously supported other Lehigh programs such as South Mountain College, Global Lehigh, Global Citizenship and the First-Year Experience, which exemplify the interdisciplinary nature of Lehigh’s offerings and leverage the academic and experiential opportunities transpiring across campus.

-Tricia Long

Photo by Ryan Donnell


Posted on Thursday, April 09, 2009

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