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Exploring Inclusive Teaching Methodologies in S.W.A.N.A. Studies

Panel XII-15, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
The world is changing, language is changing, and so are the demographics of students in SWANA Studies courses. It is important for educators to stay in tune with these changes and to make sure students see themselves represented in what we teach. Languages across the world reflect, reinforce, and can challenge power structures such as patriarchy, heterosexism, sexism, gender discrimination, ethnic supremacy, racism, and ableism. Educators are working to make the language and teaching methodologies we use more inclusive, and to draw attention to these power structures. These shifts provide new opportunities to reimagine our education models. This panel is heavily inspired by bell hooks’ 1994 work on engaged pedagogy. In "Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom," hooks proposed a radical, transformative model of education that explicitly counteracts discriminatory racist, sexist, and classist policies and practices in educational settings to promote the well-being and self-actualization of both students and teachers. By decentering Western civilization and embracing multiculturalism and democratic participation in the classroom, hooks’ approach empowers students to think and engage with source materials in a critical manner. This pedagogical reframing makes the process of teaching and learning a reciprocal and dynamic exchange, destabilizing artificially limited notions of knowledge and expertise. This panel offers much-needed discussion of inclusive pedagogical approaches that not only shed light on marginalized histories, but center the perspectives of students rather than the sole ‘expert instructor’. Among the questions this panel asks are: How is course material (historical, linguistic, ethnographic, participatory) being received by students? What issues around inclusion are particular to education in the context of SWANA Studies? How are professors and teachers attuned to the experiences of their students and what does this attunement look like in their pedagogy? How are different types of questions from students encouraged and recognized? From a pedagogical standpoint, how can the richness of scholarly knowledge be translated in ways that challenge and inspire students, and encourage the next generation of SWANA scholars? How can scholars learn from their students, and include their student’s contributions in their teaching and scholarship? The contributors will present reflections and tools from their own classroom experiences in the fields of ethnomusicology, oral history, anthropology, religious studies, and linguistics. Taken together, these papers provide a tool box of practical methods and advice that educators and scholars alike can implement in their classrooms.
Religious Studies/Theology
  • Dr. Elizabeth Saylor -- Organizer, Chair
  • Dr. Rachel Colwell -- Presenter
  • Joy Al-Nemri -- Presenter
  • Anna Tyshkov -- Presenter
  • Alexander Marcus -- Presenter
  • Dr. Rachel Colwell
    This paper presents reflections on inclusive teaching methods in ethnomusicology with a focus on representing people with disabilities in coursework and supporting students with disabilities in the classroom. Since its establishment in the mid-twentieth century, Ethnomusicology has sought to recognize, honor, and spread knowledge about the rich diversity of musics around the world. Still, nearly seventy years since the first meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, the need to counter Eurocentric hierarchies of musical supremacy remains a live and critical discussion. Despite its noble goals and ideals, ethnomusicology in practice – both research and teaching – has often imposed and reinforced colonialist paradigms, discrimination, and unequal opportunity. Amidst the Black Lives Matter Movement, Indigenous Peoples Movement, the global Covid Pandemic, and increased attention to ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ in Higher Education, it is, as ever, a good time for ethnomusicologists to re-examine their relationship with social justice. What is education about world musics, cultures, histories, or languages without overt discussions with students about power, difference, and distinction between appropriation and appreciation? Engaging with other scholars re-thinking ‘inclusion’ and Disability Justice – like Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Alice Wong, Sarah Ahmed, and Amy Lee – I reflect on my own experiences as an ethnomusicologist educator and share approaches to accessibility as a technique of inclusion, especially regarding students with disabilities. These approaches range from including disability-related topics in course design and selecting class readings written from the perspectives of scholars with disabilities to considering accessibility of course materials and activities for students with a range of needs. I consider access and disability justice from the standpoint of intersectional forms of oppression. The study of music, culture, and the SWANA region provide a wealth of thematic content relating to diversity and differences, especially in sensory and embodied experience; theory and discourse on hearing, listening, and multisensory engagement; neurodivergent artistic production and experience; movement and mobility in music-making, dance, and theater; chronic illness, mental health, healing traditions, and musical therapies; and the use of music in activism. Social science and humanities classrooms are ideal spaces for centering learning about the experiences of authors, the people they represent, and students. They can also serve as forums for critical discussion of the very issues surrounding ‘inclusion’ vis a vis respecting difference and the distinct identity movements within the Disability community. Finally, recognizing a definition of teaching as care work, I provide some insights from the Covid era.
  • Anna Tyshkov
    This paper explores oral history as an alternative pedagogical approach within the academy and beyond. Oral history has long been theorized as a feminist and anti-colonial research methodology, as it centers those who are marginalized and voiceless in the canons and archives of official ‘History’. The feminist practice of oral history highlights the details and contradictions of lived histories, challenging what constitutes institutionalized knowledge, and narratives deemed to be ‘expert’ or ‘objective’. It legitimizes subjective experiences of ordinary people who are not approached as historical ‘sources’, but rather as participants in knowledge production. Soliciting and centering oral histories in scholarship may thus be viewed as an activist praxis. In relation to academic discourse, storytelling also opens possibilities for the disenfranchised to claim and organize around their rights. This discussion is further underpinned by the theoretical and practical paradigm of Palestinian oral history (F. Abdulhadi; N. Abdo; D. Allan; R. Davis; N. Masalha; R. Sayigh; A. Yahya; among others) that responds to ongoing erasures of Palestinian refugee narratives. My paper connects these frameworks to the level of pedagogy, by asking: how can oral history methods be implemented by educators to construct a fuller picture of history for their students? Can oral history projects create inclusive possibilities for students undertaking research? What sorts of social and political relationships does oral history forge, within the classroom and to society at large? How does oral history respond to or move beyond the ongoing debate within academia concerning decolonizing knowledge? What can educators/students do with questions around audiences (who is this for?) that orality raises? From a pedagogical perspective, how can oral history methods allow students to shape their own learning? I argue that oral history, as a dynamic approach to teaching, inspires more democratic forms of knowledge production. This paper brings in the questions, tensions, and outcomes that will emerge from my course on Palestinian oral history that I will co-facilitate in Spring 2023. My argument is further informed by my oral history work with Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, specifically around a project on intergenerational memory and the Right of Return, that emerged from my experience of teaching youth in Aida refugee camp. I argue that oral history introduces a dialectical relationship between listener and teller, and by extension, between teacher and student, creating a more reciprocal structure of learning that moves both to respond to the stakes of the present.
  • Alexander Marcus
    Since its inception, scholars of the nineteenth-century Wissenschaft des Judentums or “Science of Judaism” movement have had a complex relationship with the discipline of Orientalism. As a diasporic religious community whose geographic and cultural settings have varied widely over millennia, Jews and their faith traditions have been classified on both sides of the Oriental/Occidental dichotomy, and such classifications have always carried political and social connotations, implicitly or overtly. Likewise, the role of contemporary Jewish or Judaic Studies in the study of the so-called Near East, MENA, or SWANA – and vice versa – remains a fraught topic, wrapped up in identity, emotion, and ongoing political considerations. To put the point starkly, the Jewish religion arose in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Levant, and Jews in subsequent epochs settled across the SWANA region from India to Morocco, an area that contained the majority of Jews until the early modern period. Even then, Jews in Europe maintained connections to their Sephardi/Mizrahi co-religionists and were often perceived by their non-Jewish neighbors as “oriental.” Yet the study of Jews and Judaism, and that of SWANA religions, histories, and politics, have often proceeded independently of one another, with little dialogue between respectively-situated scholars. Perhaps no area is more crucial for examining and addressing problems in the development of these disciplines than that of pedagogy. It is in the classroom that students’ pre-existing understandings (and misunderstandings) are either reinforced or reconfigured, and where instructors can explain the historical boundaries of their fields and offer more inclusive frameworks for training future generations of scholars and informed members of diverse societies. The inclusion of Jews and Judaism within SWANA Studies on one hand, and the inclusion of SWANA Studies within Jewish Studies on the other, are not without serious, ongoing challenges. Jews continue to identify, or be identified, with different cultural affiliations in different contexts, or for different purposes. And the unresolved conflicts pertaining to Israel-Palestine mean that many of these issues are far from theoretical but relate directly to ongoing political violence and discrimination. While vital, these classroom conversations risk becoming unproductive – or worse – if not thoughtfully framed and conducted. In this paper I survey some of the challenges and opportunities for integrating Jewish Studies and SWANA Studies in various classroom settings, and I discuss my own experiences as well as those of colleagues and collaborators.
  • Joy Al-Nemri
    This paper intends to help decolonize language and perceptions about what is commonly referred to as the ‘Middle’ or ‘Near East’. There are pervasive uses of colonial terms like “Middle East” even at institutions like Columbia University, where Edward Said–the father of ‘post-colonial theory’ and ‘Orientalism’ set his intellectual foundation. This moniker has not only been debunked as a Western colonial construction, but also symbolizes and reifies white supremacy. With this problematic in mind, this paper asks: 1) Why is this insistence on employing colonial cartographies and terms normalized within institutions and associations–such as MESA–even though we know better than to continue to be complicit? 2) What does it look like to dis-Orientalize our gaze, language, and interactions with the Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) region? 3) How can instructors and students (re-)imagine the interconnected regions of South Asia, West Asia, and Africa (SAWAA) together? 4) How do we advocate for the rights of marginalized people globally as we occupy and move through colonized land locally? Taking seriously the politics of naming the SWANA region is a prerequisite for participating in anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles. As an alternative to the inaccurate, colonial, and Orientalist ‘East vs. West’ divide, I argue that we can implement a decolonized approach by referring to regions based on their location relative to continents or bodies of water. In other words, while there is no East or West on the globe, there is an East or West Mediterranean and Asia. This paper draws upon my experience as a Diversity Specialist for an anti-hierarchical cultural and linguistic exchange program, within which I led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives and have taught college students bilingual Arabic-English courses titled, "Interrogating Anti-Blackness in Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA), and its Diaspora". My syllabi are designed to fill the gap in my own education and upbringing in an Arabic-speaking household, and are currently being re-adapted by other instructor-students in various directions. By initiating conversations that center the role of anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity as it relates to the settler-colonial contexts of Palestine and the US, my bilingual work de-centers English as the normative language in discussing critical topics in which we all have stakes.