Global Affairs Program to Launch Focus on Central Asia

Posted: July 23, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Christopher Anzalone

This fall, the Global Affairs Program within the Office of the Provost will begin a thematic focus on Central Asia, which will continue into the 2005-06 academic year. As part of the new initiative, faculty members from a range of academic departments and programs will offer new courses highlighting Central Asia and its importance in the contemporary global world. Among the departments and programs participating are History and Art History, Islamic Studies, Public and International Affairs, Russian Studies, the Center for Asia Pacific Cooperation, and the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR).

Central Asia is composed of a wide swath of countries, including a host of states formerly within the Soviet Union, as well as Iran and Afghanistan. “Central Asia plays a pivotal role in both U.S. foreign policy and the policies of the international community,” says Johanna Bockman, director of the Global Affairs Program. “The U.S. role has been significant as a result of ongoing hostilities in Afghanistan, the emergence of independent states in Central Asia, democratization programs in the region, concerns about terrorism and the narcotics trade, and Central Asia’s significant oil and natural gas resources.”

George Mason received a U.S. Department of Education grant to further develop undergraduate teaching in Central Asian studies. The new global affairs major program has a concentration in Russia and Central Asia, and the grant will allow new courses to be added to the catalog, Bockman says. Other courses will be revised in light of discussions about Central Asia. The university also plans to hire a faculty member with expertise in Central Asian studies.

Faculty participating in the new program will meet on a monthly basis to teach each other about their specific knowledge of Central Asia. They will also invite non-George Mason experts to share their expertise. Among those participating from George Mason are Provost Peter Stearns; Peter Mandaville, Toni Travis, and Mark Katz from the Department of Public and International Affairs; Rex Wade, Sumaiya Hamdani, and Lawrence Butler from the Department of History and Art History; Jeffrey Chamberlain and Julie Christensen from the Department of Modern and Classical Languages; and Karyna Korostelina and Agnieszka Paczynska from ICAR. “The George Mason initiative to support both faculty and student education in Central Asia is unique in the Washington, D.C., area,” Bockman says.

Mason will also focus on hiring an additional instructor in the Arabic language. Bockman notes that George Mason students seem to have a greater interest in advanced Arabic training since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Universities across the United States have seen a spike in Arabic course enrollment over the last several years. The U.S. Department of State rates Arabic as one of the hardest languages for native English speakers to master, but the need for those proficient in it is at a high point, as it is the everyday language of more than 200 million people and the religious language of 1.2 billion Muslims.

For more information on the Central Asia focus, see the Global Affairs web site.

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