Keaney’s class debunks common misconceptions

Posted By Horizon Staff April 11th, 2013 in Features : 4 COMMENTS

Annmarie Rodriguez

Staff Writer

As understanding has the ability to bring people together, so misunderstanding has the power to tear them apart.  Embracing the call to be one body in Christ, Westmont introduced a new class this semester, “Women in the Middle East.” An upper division history course taught by Associate Professor of History Heather Keaney, the class strives to debunk stereotypes about the Middle East and challenge students to see both the commonalities and differences of women in the Middle East.

Many westerners have a specific preconception of women in the Middle East: veiled, covered from head to toe, walking behind men and oppressed. “People in the USA, perhaps especially Christians and women, are interested in women in the Middle East. But generally this interest is based on false or distorted representations of women in the Middle East that fill our popular media,” stated Keaney.  In congruence with the desire to demystify perceptions of the Middle East, Westmont’s global mission statement emphasizes the college’s desire to prepare students to “take their place as citizens of the world.” It is the duty of students to refuse to let their country’s borders be the borders of their minds. Instead, as their citizenship should be to the world so their duty is to acquire a global understanding.

As a Doctor of Philosophy in Middle East history with 12 years of life in  Egypt under her belt, it is safe to infer that Keaney has developed this global perspective, although it is ever-growing. With years of expertise she begins the course with an introduction to Islam and pre-modern history of the Middle East; both are important in understanding the context of the issues, explained Keaney. “The assumption of students is that women in the Middle East are persecuted and suffering and that the primary source of this suffering is Islam,” said Keaney. But this assumption is misguided. Rather, it is in understanding how the tradition and religious texts of different regions within the Middle East are “interpreted and applied” that one is able to deduce the source of these women’s struggles and challenges, explained Keaney.

“This class gives the student an understanding of women in the region that wouldn’t be discussed for the most part in other classes,” stated fourth-year history major and student in the class, Allison Vana. A mixture of Keaney’s lectures, student-run classes, historical simulations and video clips compose the this course. “My favorite part about this course is that there is plenty of room for dialogue and expressing what each person thought about the readings,” said Vana. Not only acquiring a global perspective but also challenging this perspective with others in class discussion is important in the continual edification of one’s self and one’s peers as global citizens.

“If students in the class were asked a question abw‹out what they have learned about ‘Women in the Middle East’ and replied with a counter-question: ‘In which country? When? At what socio-economic level?’—I would be very happy,” stated Keaney. “I believe all truth is God’s truth and therefore we have a Christian imperative to be truth-seekers and truth-speakers.” Instead of unquestionably consuming all that the media spits out, this course is centered on acknowledging the value of people, both similar and different from oneself, by seeking out the truth about them.

This class will be offered next spring without prerequisites. It is one of the many avenues at Westmont through which men and women, Christians and non-Christians, will have the opportunity to expand the horizon of their perspective.

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