As the birthplace of at least four major religions and many civilizations, the Middle East has for centuries been a center of knowledge and ideas, of techniques and commodities, and, at times, of military and economic power. Yet despite the historical and cultural significance of the Middle East, the general understanding of this area and its peoples is often fragmentary and distorted. The Middle East, through its resources, peoples and geographic location, contributes significantly to the material and cultural elements of our daily lives. This is also the case for the neighboring countries of Central Asia, whose cultures and politics have become increasingly important after the break-up of the Soviet Union and the conflict in Afghanistan. The Middle East and Central Asia are diverse culture areas of major strategic importance to American foreign policy and will continue to be so in the near future. Finally, immigration to the United States from countries of the Middle East and Central Asia has increased greatly, particularly in the New York Metropolitan area and on Long Island. This has led to a greater interest in these regions by all Americans, and in particular, those of Middle Eastern descent.
As a field, Middle Eastern Studies did not emerge in the United States until the twentieth century, though its antecedents in France and the United Kingdom were established considerably earlier. At Oxford and Cambridge, for example, several chairs of Arabic were established in the seventeenth century. Middle Eastern Studies in the United States is an exciting and growing field. Currently, the Middle East Studies of America (MESA) lists more than 3,000 members. A review of recent academic dissertation topics, courses offered in Middle Eastern Studies programs nationwide and a survey of publications attest to the diversity of interdisciplinary interest in this extremely active and vibrant field. Organizations devoted to Central Asia Studies are not as prominent but have recently emerged to enhance American scholarship in the area.
Because Hofstra is committed to offering its students cross-cultural courses to gain insights into diverse cultures and modes of thought, The Middle East and Central Asian (MECA) Minor complements existing area studies programs at Hofstra such as African, Asian, and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Introductory and advanced courses on Middle Eastern cultures are offered in the Departments of Anthropology, Art History, Comparative Literature and Languages, Economics, History, Political Science and Religion. The minor will afford students in a wide range of majors the flexibility to pursue an interest in the world region of the Middle East and Central Asia. By approaching the study of this region from a range of disciplines and perspectives, students in this minor will form a more nuanced view of the area. An important part of the minor will be highlighting texts and perspectives from the standpoint of those who live in the area, as well as drawing attention to the ways in which the peoples and cultures have been represented.