Middle East and South Asia Studies

  • Department Interdisciplinary
  • Academic Division The College
  • Offerings With Language Emphasis minor Without Language minor

Student at a temple in Asia Student at a temple in Asia

The Middle East and South Asia, though wide in extent and culturally diverse, contain multiple cradles of civilization, and have been linked since antiquity by cultural, religious and economic networks, both on land (the Silk Road) and sea (the Indian Ocean).

Middle East and South Asia

Students in the MESA program gain broad-based, historically grounded knowledge about the societies and cultures of the Middle East and South Asia, including their linkages and area-wide patterns, acquiring the skills to analyze and interpret social, religious, political and cultural processes or developments relevant to the area.

Students may choose to minor in Middle East and South Asia Studies Or MESA Studies with Language Emphasis, both of which require seven courses (at least 21 credits). Language emphasis requires three additional 3-4 credit courses earned by completing through term five in one MESA-relevant language. The first two terms of language study are not applicable to the minor. Both Arabic and Sanskrit instruction are available at W&L; other MESA-relevant languages, such as Hebrew, Hindi or Tibetan, may be studied elsewhere and considered by the program director for credit toward the minor with language emphasis.

Opportunities

Students are encouraged to take advantage of study abroad or language learning opportunities in the Middle East and South Asia. Washington and Lee’s relationships with the Associated Colleges of the Midwest and Middlebury Schools Abroad facilitate student experiences in Jordan and India. The Critical Language Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, offers fully-funded summer language institutes for U.S. students studying Arabic, Hindi, Indonesian, Urdu, Persian, Punjabi, Bangla or Turkish. Students may also consider programs with the Council on International Education Exchange or the School for International Training, which offer opportunities in Jordan, India, Indonesia, Morocco or Nepal. Scholarships are available for some of these experiences.

The Association for Middle East Interests, a campus student group, is dedicated to informing the student body and Rockbridge-area community about the Middle East.

Other co-curricular and extracurricular activities include movie nights, calligraphy lessons, cooking lessons, dance lessons, spoken word nights, guest speakers and the WLUArabic Lunch.

Seth Cantey

Program Head

Kerri Ritter

Administrative Assistant

News


W&L Outcomes: Pari Ahmadi ’24

Pari Ahmadi ’24 will be working as a clinical research coordinator at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute before attending medical school.

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Four W&L Students Awarded Boren Scholarships for Global Language Study

The David L. Boren Scholarship supports the intensive study of languages deemed important to U.S. interests.

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W&L’s Maddy Mayer ’24 Earns U.S. Teaching Assistantship to Austria

Mayer will teach English in Austria before pursuing a master’s degree in international relations.

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Anthony Edwards, professor of Arabic

Shared Language

Anthony Edwards, professor of Arabic, brings his boundless energy to his teaching, research and mentorship of students.

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W&L Student Accepted into American Economic Association Summer Training Program

Janae Darby ’25 will participate in the prestigious program this summer at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

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W&L’s Brandon Bishop ’26 Awarded the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Fellowship

Starting in July, Bishop will participate in a year-long cultural immersion program in Germany.

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Record Number of W&L Students Awarded Critical Language Scholarship

The Critical Language Scholarship Program funds a summer of overseas language and cultural immersion.

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Anthropology Professor Publishes Essay in Online Publication

Hafsa Oubou’s essay “Churches Can, Mosques Can’t” appears in the January edition of Canopy Forum.

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Thomas deBuchananne ’27 Awarded CIE Arabic Summer Scholarship

Washington and Lee’s Center for International Education awarded deBuchananne funding to study Arabic at the University of Jordan this summer.

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W&L Arabic Professor Publishes Paper in International Peer-Reviewed University Journal

Anthony Edwards’ article focuses on the 19th-century Orientalist Gregory M. Wortabet.

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W&L Arabic Professor Publishes Paper in International Peer-Reviewed Journal

Anthony Edwards illustrates his case study that focuses on Khalīl al-Khūrī, a central figure of the Nahḍa.

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W&L’s Edwards Featured in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

Arabic professor Anthony Edwards recently published a paper titled “Becoming the Muʿallim: how tradition and innovation made a Nahḍa icon.”

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Sample Courses

At W&L, we believe education and experience go hand-in-hand. You’ll be encouraged to dive in, explore and discover connections that will broaden your perspective.

MESA 255

Language Policies & Politics

An examination of language policies in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia (broadly defined). Students are introduced to the concepts and theories involved in language planning and policy (LPP) and discuss topics such as the legal status of language(s); linguistic rights; language attitudes and ideologies; language in education; language standardization; multilingualism and nationalism; and language endangerment. Students investigate the factors that govern and influence different LPPs through a series of case studies from the MESA region.

REL 132

God & Goddess in Hinduism

This course explores the many ways in which Hindus visualize and talk about the divine and its manifestations in the world through mythic stories, use of images in worship, explanations of the nature of the soul and body in relation to the divine, and the belief in human embodiments of the divine in Hindu holy men and women. Topics include: the religious meanings of masculine and feminine in the divine and human contexts; the idea of local, family and "chosen" divinities; and differing forms of Hindu devotion for men and women.

REL 231

Yogis, Monks & Mystics

Yogis, ascetics and other holy people pursue extraordinary paths that invert the normal aims and values of society. This course surveys ideas on mental and physical training, their conceptual basis, the range of techniques used, and their philosophical development. Course material is drawn from a diverse range of religions that may include Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Islamic and Christian. The course seeks to answer such questions as: “What is the purpose of these teachings and for whom were they designed?” “What roles do yogis and ascetics play in religious life?” and “What is their ethical status in the world?”

ARTH 343

Art & Material Culture of Tibet

Through a chronological presentation of sites and objects, we study Tibet’s great artistic movements from the 7th-20th centuries. Our analyses of the art and material culture of Tibet, and its larger cultural zone, has an art historical and historiographic focus. This two-pronged approach encourages students to analyze not only the styles and movements of Tibetan art, but the methods by which this art world has been studied by and simultaneously presented to Western audiences.

REL 284

Gender, Sexuality & Islam

How have issues of gender and sexuality in medieval and modern Islamic societies been debated across the Middle East, South Asia and the West? Students examine scholarly and public discussions of gender and Islam, and they build a vocabulary in which to talk about women, queer and intersex history as they concern Muslim societies and their foundational sources in their regional and historical contexts.

LIT 295

Arab Women Writers

This course examines literary works of women writers in the Arabic literary tradition. In the Western world, Arab women’s fiction is often read in order to gain insight into the social and political questions facing women in various Arab societies — the metaphorical drawing of the veil from the face of the Arab woman. We follow this mode of inquiry to some extent, and we also consider our eagerness to draw back this veil in the first place. While paying attention to literary themes, poetics, rhetoric and literary forms, we examine the roles women came to fulfill in Arabic literary culture, the narrative and poetic forms they have adopted in their writing in different periods, and the way these reflect on gender dynamics in the Middle East.

Meet the Faculty

At W&L, students enjoy small classes and close relationships with professors who educate and nurture.

Seth Cantey
Seth Cantey

Seth Cantey

Associate Professor of Politics; MESA Program Head

Cantey teaches courses on global politics, Middle Eastern politics, intelligence, terrorism and foreign policy. His commentary on current events has been picked up by various media outlets, such as USA Today and the Huffington Post.

Curriculum Vitae

Jumana S. Al-Ahmad
Jumana S. Al-Ahmad

Jumana S. Al-Ahmad

Visiting Assistant Professor of Arabic

Jumana Al-Ahmad’s research focuses on the intersection of religion, culture and human rights with attention to the thought and activism of women intellectuals in Tunisia and across the Maghrib. She teaches Arabic language, as well as courses on Islamic feminism, social justice, and Qur’anic studies.

Kameliya N. Atanasova
Kameliya N. Atanasova

Kameliya N. Atanasova

Assistant Professor of Religion

Atanasova researches the intersection of religion, law and politics by studying the social role of Sufism in the early-modern Ottoman Empire. She teaches Islamic Civilization, Sufism, Islam in America, and Muslims in the Movies.

Aliaa Bassiouny
Aliaa Bassiouny

Aliaa Bassiouny

Lawrence Term Associate Professor of Finance

Bassiouny’s teaching portfolio includes courses in managerial finance, investments, portfolio management, international finance, valuation and financial modeling. Her research interests include investments and empirical market microstructure with a focus on emerging markets.

Curriculum Vitae

Niels-Hugo (Hugo) Blunch
Niels-Hugo (Hugo) Blunch

Niels-Hugo (Hugo) Blunch

Darrold and Kay Cannan Term Professor of Economics

Blunch teaches econometrics and health economics, and also takes students to Ghana for study abroad. His research pertains to health, education and labor market issues. Previously, Blunch worked with the World Bank and the United Nations.

Curriculum Vitae

Alexandra R. Brown
Alexandra R. Brown

Alexandra R. Brown

Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor in Bible

Brown teaches courses on the New Testament and other ancient Christian texts, Bible and film, gender and religion, Christian mysticism, and theory and method in the study of religion. Her primary research is in New Testament, particularly the Pauline letters.

Curriculum Vitae

Anthony (Antoine) Edwards

Anthony (Antoine) Edwards

Assistant Professor of Arabic

Edwards teaches courses in Arabic at all levels as well as a course on the Arab world through film. His research centers around Arabic language and grammar as well as the histories and ideologies of Arabic.

Curriculum Vitae

Stuart Gray
Stuart Gray

Stuart Gray

Associate Professor of Politics

Gray teaches numerous courses on political philosophy, Gandhi and Greek/Indian political theory. His research focuses on the history of political thought, global comparative political theory and South Asian political thought.

Curriculum Vitae

Timothy Lubin
Timothy Lubin

Timothy Lubin

Jessie Ball DuPont Professor of Religion

Professor Lubin teaches courses on Asian religions and comparative study of religion and law. He researches Hindu religious history, law in ancient Asia, and texts and inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Old Javanese and Old Tamil.

Shikha Silwal
Shikha Silwal

Shikha Silwal

Associate Professor of Economics

Silwal teaches courses such as The Economics of War and Peace, and Culture and Economic Development. She also co-teaches a study abroad course in Nepal. Silwal researches conflict and peace studies with a focus on South Asia.

Curriculum Vitae

Jumana S. Al-Ahmad
Kameliya N. Atanasova
Aliaa Bassiouny
Niels-Hugo (Hugo) Blunch
Alexandra R. Brown
Stuart Gray
Timothy Lubin
Shikha Silwal
Seth Cantey