Center News

Interfaith Dialogue and Outreach 

The Middle East Center and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has been collaborating on interfaith dialogue projects that promotes mutual understanding between Islam and Judaism for the past five years. Several students from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College got together with Penn graduate students and staff for the launch event of Muslims in America Course at the Greenfield intercultural center on February 25, 2014. Rabbis Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer and Michael Ramberg from the RRC hosted the event. MEC Director Dr. Mehmet Darakcioglu provided information about the administration of the program as well as the activities of the Middle East Center during the launch event. 

Penn Middle East Center and South Asia Center Launch New Pulitzer International Student Reporting Fellowship Program

On February 5th, the South Asia Center, the Middle East Center, and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting hosted a two-part event to officially launch the Pulitzer International Student Reporting Fellowship Program.  The event, co-hosted by South Asia Center Assistant Director Dr. Raili Roy and Middle East Center Associate Director Dr. Mehmet Darakcioglu, served as an information session for students interested in international reporting. Additionally, the Centers screened No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, International Emmy Award Nominee and Winner of a 2014 BRITDOC Impact Award, and played host to the filmmaker, Callum Macrae.

The event gave students the opportunity to learn about the Pulitzer International Student Reporting Fellowship, a program co-sponsored by the South Asia Center and Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The event provided essential information to potential applicants: 

  • Any Penn student who is going to South Asia or the Middle East over the summer of 2015 is welcome to apply.  Previous journalism experience is not a requirement but an open mind and a willingness to write, photograph and/or create videos is necessary. Center editors will work closely with the fellows on storytelling strategies, reporting methods and travel logistics. The fellows will participate in a Pulitzer Center-conducted workshop before leaving as well as mentorship and editorial support in the field.
  • The 2 winning fellows, one focused on South Asia and one on the Middle East,  will complete news articles, short videos, slideshows or other media products, with editorial support and mentorship. The fellows will help illuminate another part of the world for the Penn community and beyond. The fellows’ work will be published on the Pulitzer Center site and possibly other outlets. The fellows will also be expected to participate in outreach efforts for the South Asia Center or Middle East Center upon return to campus.
  • The winning fellows will receive $500 upon completion of the deliverables, plus invaluable editorial support and mentorship
  • Application Deadline is March 31st, 2015

Students were also treated to a screening of No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka as well as a panel discussion with No Fire Zone filmmaker Callum Macrae and Penn South Asia Studies Professor Teren Sevea.  They discussed the ongoing quest for truth, justice and accountability in the aftermath of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war.

For more information on the Pulitzer International Student Reporting Fellowship Program, or to download a fellowship application, please visit https://www.sas.upenn.edu/mec/opportunities/pulitzer.   You may also want to visit the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Penn Area Studies Centers Host "Asia Day" for Local High Schools

In partnership with the Penn Center for East Asian Studies, the South Asia Center and the Penn Museum, the Middle East Center co-sponsored “Asia Day” for local area high school students on February 11th, 2015.  Approximately 120 students from four area high schools participated in the daylong program.  This year’s Asia Day theme was “The Many Faces of Islam.”  Students listened to lectures, participated in Urdu and Arabic language classes, and took a tour through the Penn Museum.  The visiting students interacted with Penn staff and graduate students, took part in Q&A sessions and learned about a number of world regions. 

Following the morning session, the visiting students enjoyed a lunch featuring South Asian and East Asian cuisine.  After lunch, the students were treated to three different performances highlighting unique aspects of Asian and Middle Eastern culture.  Juan Ibrahim Castrillion, a Penn PhD student in Ethnomusicology, performed traditional Sufi music playing instruments such as ney and bendir.  Ibrahim Miari, a Lecturer of Modern Hebrew at Penn, performed a traditional Whirling Dervishes dance, accompanied by music performed by Mr. Castrillion.  Finally, the daylong program closed with a performance by Penn Masti, the university’s premier South Asian co-ed fusion dance team. 

Penn Middle East Center co-hosts FLAS information session

On January 23, 2015, undergraduate and graduates students gathered to learn about Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. Representatives from Penn’s National Resource Centers (Middle East Center, Africa Center, and South Asia Center) gave a brief presentation on the types of opportunities available for Penn students.  They also explained the FLAS Fellowship eligibility requirements and application procedures. 

This information session not only gave interested students background about the FLAS Fellowship program, but it also gave them ample time to get their specific questions answered.  Many students stated that they had summer research plans and language acquisition goals, and the National Resource Center representatives were able to explain what options FLAS Fellowships presented to help students achieve their goals.

MEC Hosts Students from Church Farm High School

On December 10, 2014 the Middle East Center hosted eight students and their teacher from the Church Farm School High School (Exton, Pennsylvania). The students, who are currently taking a class on the Middle East, wrote a policy paper on United States foreign policy options concerning the ongoing crisis in Syria. The Center’s Associate Director Dr. Mehmet Darakcioglu and Student Researcher Alex deBerardinis shared their feedbacks about the paper, each providing constructive criticism and in-depth information on the subject material. The event brought together enthusiastic students willing to learn about the Middle East and the Center staff willing to share their knowledge about the region.

Speakers Bureau Program at the Middle East Center

The Middle East Center runs a robust Speakers Bureau Program in the greater Philadelphia area. Our Speakers Bureau program aims to help K-12 students and educators expand their knowledge about the Middle East.  Between September and November 2014, the Center arranged for four Speakers Bureau visits to schools including Motivation High School and Julia Masterman Middle and High School. Advanced graduate students Alon Tam and Carolyn Brunelle shared their knowledge about the region with K-12 students and their teachers during their visits to these schools.

 

Just to highlight one of these visits, on September 17, 2014, James Ryan, Ph.D. Candidate at The University of Pennsylvania, was the guest lecturer for Jake Greenberg’s Modern Middle East class at Moorestown High School. Mr. Greenberg’s course involves a survey of Middle East history from World War I to the war in Iraq. Major themes include: the emergence of nation states after colonialism; long-term historical, technological, and cultural trends in the region; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Islam and the West; and North Africa’s burgeoning societies. Students learn from a number of guest lecturers and take various field trips to experience Middle Eastern life in America.

 

Mr. James Ryan who researches the late Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey led a general discussion about the Middle East. For more information on this Speakers Bureau visit please click here and here.

Paul M. Cobb's New Book on the Crusades

Paul M. Cobb, Professor of Islamic history in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, has just published *The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades* with Oxford University Press. The book is intended to offer a new and accessible history of the confrontations between Muslims and Europeans we now call the "Crusades," one that emphasizes the diversity of Muslim experiences of European holy war on all shores of the Muslim Mediterranean, from Spain to Syria. In the process, Cobb shows that this is not a straightforward story of warriors and kings clashing in the Holy Land, but a more complicated tale of border-crossers and turncoats; of embassies and merchants; of scholars and spies, all of them seeking to manage a new threat from the barbarian fringes of their ordered world. When seen from the perspective of medieval Muslims, the Crusades emerge as something altogether different from the high-flying rhetoric of the European chronicles: as a cultural encounter to ponder, a diplomatic chess-game to be mastered, a commercial opportunity to be seized, and as so often happened, a political challenge to be exploited by ambitious rulers making canny use of the language of jihad.

MMES Student Interns with the U.S. State Department 

Erica Ma, spent her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania working in a federal government internship that didn’t require her to live in Washington, D.C., or be based in any specific part of the world. That’s because she worked remotely as an e-intern in the State Department’s Virtual Student Foreign Service program.

Ma wrote about her year-long VSFS experience in an article posted on DipNote, the State Department’s official blog. 

She is an international relations and modern Middle Eastern studies major in the School of Arts & Sciences and learned about the internship through a post on Facebook. She has long been interested in international human rights. She applied for the internship last summer and started in September 2013 while studying abroad for a semester in Rabat, Morocco.

To read the full article please click here.

Public Outreach Highlights: Iranian-American Novelists Event

In partnership with multiple Penn entities and the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Middle East Center organized several public events to raise awareness on issues related to the Middle East through creative programming. On March 6, 2014, the Center brought five Iranian-American novelists to Kelly Writers House for an evening of book reading for an event entitled "Contemporary American Fiction: Five Women, Five Books." The event brought campus community together with literature enthusiast Philadelphiangs for a cosy evening of book reading. Anita Amirrezvani, Marjan Kamali, Persis Karim, Porochista Khakpour, and the Center Director Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet read excerpts from their works of fiction.

To watch a recording of this event please click here.

Community College Programs

The Center has been working with community colleges around Philadelphia area for the past years to enhance the understanding about the Middle Eastern cultures, history, languages, politics, and religions among community college students and instructors. For instance, in partnership with the American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT) and the Center for Civic Leadership at the Camden County College (CCC), the Center sponsored two lecture series at CCC. These lectures brought Penn faculty and other Middle East area specialists in conversation with community college constituencies. Jamal Elias, MEC affiliate faculty and professor or religion, can be see lecturing about the essentials of Islam in one of these lectures at CCC on March 1, 2012.