Arabic Studies: A Small Discipline with a Large Impact
Small Disciplines – Cultural Diversity is the motto of the 2019/2020 winter semester at the University of Bamberg. These so-called small disciplines are showing the public why they are socially relevant and academically excellent. 24 October 2019 marked the commencement of the lecture series accompanying the Small Disciplines event schedule. Arabic studies is one such field at the University of Bamberg. In this interview, Dr. Lale Behzadi, professor of Arabic Studies, talks about her discipline’s opportunities and challenges, and about the ways in which it enriches society.
Would you briefly introduce Arabic studies?
Lale Behzadi: Arabic studies focuses on the past and present language, literature and culture of the Arab world. There is an almost inconceivable wealth of Arabic writings: poetry collections, essays, philosophic treatises. Research can also incorporate additional perspectives – a political focus, for instance. People in the Arabic-speaking world are characterised by so many factors, not just Islam: there is also language, history, social circumstances. Arabic studies provides a sensitising perspective on this pluralism.
How does Arabic studies enrich our society?
I think that any subject that imparts knowledge and provides new insights is an enrichment for society. In my experience, the public is becoming ever more aware of Arabic studies. One reason is that occurrences in the Middle East are affecting us more directly, not least due to recent and ongoing migration movements. People who speak Arabic and are familiar with the historic developments and cultural particularities of Arab countries function as an important link between societies. We are able to translate, explain, communicate. After all, Arabic is the native language of over 300 million people. And European and Arab history are closely linked.
Why did you personally decide to study Middle Eastern, German and Arabic studies, among other things?
I had a strong interest in foreign languages and literature, and my own family background also played into my decision. Another important motive was my belief that I could expand my horizons.
Now you are the sole professor of Arabic studies at the University of Bamberg. What opportunities does this bring?
First, it’s important for me to say that there’s tremendous opportunity in the fact that this field even exists as an independent discipline at the University of Bamberg. Arabic studies is rarely presented as an autonomous field in Germany. At the same time, I’m also not entirely alone, because my field is also part of the Institute of Oriental Studies. This is particularly advantageous, because there are many commonalities between my field and neighbouring disciplines like Islamic or Iranian studies.
Where do you see the challenges in your discipline?
It’s challenging to cover a high volume of topics with a small staff. In addition to my own particular research focus, I also have to be the generalist in our department so that our students can become acquainted with the broad spectrum this research area represents. We are, after all, talking about a geographic region stretching from Morocco to Iraq that has been producing texts for over 1,400 years. It’s almost like having only one professor for the field of European studies. I’m trying to make the best of it.
How do you think Arabic studies should continue to develop in coming years?
One of my specific goals is to establish the didactics of Arabic as a foreign language as its own academic subdiscipline. A couple of years ago, we began a testing phase for Arabic as a school subject in Bamberg and Nuremberg, and we’re working with our colleagues in the school education department here in Bamberg to support the project academically. Additionally, we are working to further develop partnerships with universities in Arab countries.
What are your thoughts on the abundance of smaller disciplines at the University of Bamberg?
So-called small disciplines often focus on topics and regions beyond our immediate perception. Or they test new means and methods. How are we supposed to gain new insights if we don’t create professorships for novel subjects? By committing itself to the smaller disciplines, the University of Bamberg has shown that it’s prepared for the challenges of globalisation and digital transformation. Together with the exceptional teacher training programmes here in Bamberg, we’re sharing the small disciplines’ specialist knowledge with the larger community. The “larger” and “smaller” disciplines work really well together here – on both the teaching and research sides. So small disciplines aren’t merely some indulgence that the University of Bamberg can afford, they’re a true strength!
This News was translated by Ben Wilson.