Arabic, Quran courses popular at metro colleges
By KELLY SIMMONS
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
Arabic and the teachings of the Quran are among the
hottest offerings on college campuses this year.
A beginning Arabic-language course at the University
of Georgia is filled for the fall semester, for the
first time since the school began offering the
language in 1991. Twice as many students have enrolled
in Arabic at Emory University as last year. Georgia
State University has seen a 50 percent increase in
religious studies enrollment for the fall, with many
students opting specifically for courses that feature
Islam, Judaism or Hinduism.
In the post-Sept. 11 world, anything related to the
Middle East is in vogue. Nationally, the demand is
high for experts in Middle Eastern studies, religion
and languages. Schools that had seen limited student
interest in basic religion, philosophy and history
courses are finding their classes overbooked since the
Sept. 11 attacks and escalating violence in the Middle
"I think there is a genuine interest to become
informed and look at these things in a more structured
fashion than you might get through other means," said
Tim Renick, director of the religious studies program
at Georgia State. "We've made a concerted effort to
try to speak to that interest."
While students for the most part aren't changing their
majors, they are exploring courses to broaden their
knowledge of world events, Renick said. Some see
increased career potential in the ability to speak
Arabic or better understand another culture and
Thirty-five students have signed up for UGA's
Introduction to Arabic -- the maximum number allowed
in the class, said Alan Godlas, associate professor of
religious studies. Typically, about 20 students take
the course each semester, he said. In addition, more
students are enrolled for the second course this fall
than typically have continued past the introductory
course, he said.
A future in Arabic
Godlas said that's because students are seeing more of
a future in being able to speak the Arabic language
after Sept. 11. Students who learn the language have
international job opportunities in government and
private business, he said.
Sept. 11 "has essentially increased the motivation of
students to persevere in Arabic studies," Godlas said.
"They're seeing there's more of a need."
At Georgia State University, 329 students have
enrolled in religious studies classes for the fall
semester, and registration will continue until Aug.
25. Only 201 students took religious studies classes
At Emory, 23 upperclassmen are registered for Arabic
101, more than twice as many students as took the
class last fall. The school expects the class size to
grow even more once freshmen register in August. Fall
courses such as Islamic Political Thought,
Consequences of War, and Might and Right: Political
Theory and International Relations all are already
overenrolled -- before freshman registration.
Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia both report
high student interest in courses that address world
relations, conflict and terrorism.
Introduction to Islam and World Religion are among the
classes GSU junior Sara Malas will take this fall. A
native of Saudi Arabia, Malas wants to become better
informed about the issues in the Middle East, where
she still has family.
Malas said she realized after the World Trade Center
attacks how little her fellow students knew about the
land she called home until age 5.
"It bothered me how so many people were
misinterpreting religion and people from the Middle
East," Malas, 21, said.
Gordon Newby, executive director of the Institute for
Comparative and International Studies at Emory, said
students historically have become more interested in
world religion and culture following a war. Emory
students flocked to Middle Eastern history and
religion courses following the Iranian revolution in
1979, and to a lesser degree, after the Gulf War in
1991, he recalled.
"When things show up in the news, people start to pay
attention to them," Newby said.
Middle Eastern issues also have become more prominent
in core college courses, said Mike Digby, chairman of
the government and sociology department at Georgia
College & State University in Milledgeville.
Basic political science and history classes now focus
much more on U.S. relations with the Middle East,
because that's what students and instructors are
interested in, Digby said.
Sept. 11 "was a gigantic teachable moment," he said.
"It was just tailor-crafted for political science."
Georgia State instructor Kenneth Smith said his
Introduction to Religion and Philosophy of Religion
classes focus more on Middle Eastern religions than
they did in the fall. During Wednesday's 2 1/2-hour
class, students listened intently as Smith outlined
the teachings of the Quran, specifically its
directives on war. The media has distorted Americans'
perception of Muslims, portraying them all as
religious fanatics, he told the class.
Afterward, student Katherine Moore said the class had
given her a different perspective on Muslim beliefs
and possibly on the driving force behind the terrorist
"I think we don't realize how other people see us,"
said Moore, a grandmother of three who holds a
bachelor's degree in journalism and is seeking a
degree in religion.
"Now I can go back and understand the world better. I
can be more considerate of other people's opinions."
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