Department of Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures changes name to Department of Jewish, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies

Curran Neenan | News Editor

The former Department of Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures is now called the Department of Jewish, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.

Professor Hillel Kieval, the department chair, says the change was made to better represent the full spectrum of studies available in the department.

“[The old name] focused on language and cultures and we thought that mischaracterized what we did because we understand ourselves to be multidisciplinary or cross disciplinary: history, religious studies, anthropology, law and even political thought,” Kieval said. “What we did and the ways in which we approach the societies and cultures of the Middle East and their diasporas, we wanted that to be better reflected.”

Kieval also acknowledged that the term “Near Eastern” is both outdated and geographically restrictive.

“The other part had to do with a shift from the older nineteenth century term, Near East, to the more conventional term of art, which is Middle East,” Kieval said. “Our interests really stretch from North Africa and Morocco, through the Middle East, the former lands of the Ottoman Empire and even to Islamic civilization in South Asia and Southeast Asia.”

The new name was approved by a unanimous faculty vote Jan. 28, after which Kieval sent a letter to Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Barbara Schaal and Provost Holden Thorp for approval. The administrators approved the change last week.

Ian Mooney, one of two graduate students in the department, said he appreciated the auditory qualities of the old department acronym (JINELC), but said he sees how the new name is more representative of the department.

“JINELC flows—it’s got the syllable arranged nicely,” Mooney said. “But we’ve only got one literature person here, most of the others do religious studies or cultural or historical studies, so the idea of emphasizing Middle East studies makes sense to me, I suppose.”

Freshman Morad Suliman, who wants to minor in Arabic, says the new name better exemplifies the full breadth of studies available in the department.

“I think it’s more inclusive,” Suliman said. “I think the old name kind of left out both Hindu and Urdu.”

The department, according to its website, is one of the few in the country where students can take classes in Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, Jewish studies and Islamic studies all in one department.

JIMES Academic, Curriculum and Events Coordinator Stephen Scordias, said the name change, along with two upcoming April events and a possible logistical reshuffling of the department, is an effort to update the department.

“They’re really student-generated events going along with the name change,” Scordias said. “We’re also going to try to reorganize and reannounce changing majors coming up; [we’re] just trying to make things contemporary.”

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