Grant expands Mideast studies

The University is developing new Middle East-focused international study abroad and graduate seminar programs, thanks to a $65,000 grant from a New York nonprofit.

Northeastern’s Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development recently won the grant from the Social Science Research Council, a New York City nonprofit devoted to advancing social science research. The purpose of the grant is to broaden the understanding of Islamic traditions and Muslim societies through global experiential learning opportunities for students and interdisciplinary seminars for the Boston community.

The Middle East studies program and the School of Journalism will work in tandem to develop the new study-abroad courses — through the University’s Dialogue of Civilizations program — for journalism, international affairs and political science students. The interdisciplinary partnership also includes an Open Classroom series titled “America, Islam and the Middle East.” The University’s Open classroom series is a graduate-level seminar that is open to the public.

“Muslim society is a central part of American human interests, economics and politics,” said the center director and political science professor Denis Sullivan. “Students who understand this part of the world are wiser through experiential opportunities in Muslim societies and can apply what they have learned no matter where they end up.”

Northeastern was one of 10 universities to receive a grant from the Social Science Research Council program on Academia in the Public Sphere. The program is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, whose mission is to “promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.”

Students on Dialogue programs in countries such as Turkey, Syria and Morocco will build relationships with journalists, policy-makers and academic researchers by reporting and developing publishable stories and policy briefs on the Muslim world. The program, which also includes courses on global reporting and Middle East studies, will begin in the summer of 2012.

The Open Classroom series will feature presentations by Stephen Burgard, director of the School of Journalism, Michael Dukakis, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, and Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

The seminars, which will be open to the general public, will take place on Tuesday evenings during the fall semester.

Burgard will lead a seminar on reporting techniques for journalists who cover complex international issues. Last year, he edited a collection of essays — “Faith, Politics & Press In Our Perilous Times”— for reporters and policy-makers who want to understand how religion affects the day’s news.

“Since September 11, we’ve had a profound engagement with the Islamic world on many levels and a lot of journalists realized we didn’t understand the Muslim world very well,” said Burgard. “There’s been some admirable progress, but we need to build into our journalism education a more sophisticated understanding of the Muslim world so we’ll be more informed.”