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Transforming Classroom Experiences of the Islamic Past with Multicultural, Multidisciplinary Perspectives
Abstract by Dr. Sara Ann Knutson
Coauthors: Laila Shaheen , Jason Izadi
On Session XIII-19  (New Approaches to Studying and Teaching Islamicate History)

On Sunday, November 5 at 1:30 pm

2023 Annual Meeting

The Abbasids: History, Heritage, and Memory is a new course offered at the University of British, Columbia. Centered on the MENA region during the so-called ‘Islamic Golden Age,’ the course addresses a significant regional and temporal gap in the university curriculum. The course is still in its infancy, and we are therefore interested in two key research questions: (1) what is the student experience of diversity and cultural learning in this course? (2) What pedagogical frameworks, activities, and resources can we modify to support students across cultural backgrounds in the classroom and in the research experience and to foster an interdisciplinary community? To address these questions, we analyze survey data and course evaluations from former students and adopt a “Students as Partners” (SaP) approach, in which the student partners collaborate equally with the faculty member to contribute to pedagogical design with their own valuable sets of expertise and in which all decision-making is achieved collectively. We argue that SaP work is valuable to helping destabilize outdated assumptions that a teacher’s role in the classroom is primarily as a top-down lecturer and instead takes seriously that students offer powerful insights into course design and pedagogy within their own positionalities and learning-, disciplinary-, and cultural- expertise. We also argue that this approach offers important opportunities for empowering student experiential learning and for fostering diversity and inclusivity on North American campuses. In this presentation, we will share and reflect on our experiences of the SaP approach, what we learned from surveying former students in the course on key issues of cultural sensitivity, centering research in the classroom, and developing interdisciplinary conversations about the Islamic past, and what we learned from our partnership on this project as intellectual equals. The pedagogical conversations that this project raises have important implications for classrooms that engage with Islamic history and the history of the MENA region. Firstly, this work takes seriously the intersection between pedagogy and research and positions collaborative pedagogical design as an important form of academic knowledge production. Secondly, our project demonstrates the importance of teaching culturally sensitivity in the classroom and of challenging harmful biases and Eurocentric attitudes towards the study of the Islamic past as part of ongoing work to decolonize the Academy. Finally, our work calls attention to the importance of supporting the Middle Eastern immigrant experience among undergraduate students in Canada and how North American universities might work towards this goal.
Art/Art History
International Relations/Affairs
Geographic Area
All Middle East
Arabian Peninsula
Central Asia
Islamic World
Sub Area