Director molds emissaries of peace
In a post-9/11 and Arab Spring age, the turbulence of the Middle East has been magnified by the media, and images of men in turbans wielding guns are perpetuated.
Director of Arab Studies Emran El-Badawi has aimed to counter these images by fostering intellectuals and reaching out to students across cultures and faiths to find common ground. Since his appointment in 2011, he has revamped the Arabic language program, established a new Arab Studies minor and worked to unveil the Middle Eastern Studies major through the World Cultures and Literatures Department.
“There’s a great deal of misinformation about the Arab world and about the Islamic world, in general, so we work hard to counter that with robust academic nuance and intelligent conversation,” Badawi said. “The most important thing — and I try to emphasize this in all of my courses — a student that completes the Arab Studies minor should be one step closer to being a world citizen, a citizen of the globalized world. Therefore, he or she should be an ambassador for peace. They should be able to use the tools that they learned, the research, the methodologies, the readings, the appreciation of the ‘other’ in order to spread peace and goodwill among mankind.”
The Arab Studies program has taken a new direction since Badawi was brought into the University community and ushered into the position in 2011. Academic adviser of Hispanic studies Debra Frazier, who has worked with Badawi, has seen the program change hands and grow under Badawi’s leadership.
“He’s so psyched up about it. He’s doing everything,” Frazier said. “There’s just been so much that he’s been working with, from the minor and now with this emphasis on the major — he just has the tools to go forward with it where the tools weren’t necessarily there before, to go forward.”
Badawi also works as a tenure-track assistant professor and teaches upper-level language courses, comparative religious studies and cultural studies. Some of the classes he has taught include “Arabic Literature in Translation,” “Modernity and Rationalism in Islamic Thought” and “Modern Middle East,” which are open to students of all academic backgrounds.
Adrian Castillo, a political science and world cultures and literature double-major, is currently taking Badawi’s Modernity and Rationalism course, which covers a broad range of modern Islamic scholarship. He said he felt as though an understanding of the region is important to creating peace for the future.
“Because the Middle East is such a turbulent region right now, that for us to better understand them, we have to understand their foundation — they come from one of the oldest civilizations in the world,” Castillo said. “My hope is that the University of Houston can expand the program into a major and, hopefully, a graduate program, because this city is so diverse. While the Middle East is far away, it has its connections here.”
Castillo has been a student of Badawi for several semesters and enjoys his teaching methods. He hopes to put his newfound knowledge into a renewed frame of the Middle East.
“His classes just skim the top of what is a very complex area of study, yet they’re so informative. His classes have given me so much,” Castillo said. “A testament to that is being around those Islamic scholars, know what they’re talking about and understand what they’re saying. It’s a testament to how well he teaches.”
Much of Badawi’s work has revolved around interfaith and cross-cultural interaction within an Arab and Islamic context. He is currently working on two research projects about contemporary Arab intellectual history and classical Islamic law in the context of Syriac Christian tradition. Badawi received his doctorate with honors in Early Islamic History in the Department of Near Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago in 2011.
Badawi will offer two courses in the Spring 2014 semester: “Qur’an as Literature” and “Women and Gender in Arabic Literature.”
“The UH community is extraordinary. It’s been a good run, and I’m very happy with the way things have turned out,” Badawi said.