“It’s troubling because you see that these things are made up; you realize the power of rhetoric and propaganda and bad governance,” she said. “… [The area that includes] India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is the most populated region in world, so governments wanted to control it. It’s an area where the world’s largest number of minorities are living side by side … a mosaic of world religions, and they have been living together for ages, and suddenly they have started not just being enemies, but violently disliking one another.
“It’s a very important question to ask: How did this happen and what purpose does it serve? And you see that it doesn’t serve the purpose of people.”
In response, Saikia made it her mission to “move outside of those given categories” and “start working on a different kind of history that brings people’s stories to the forefront. In doing that, you find that people are so similar.”
The exchange between ASU and Kinnaird College for Women focuses on English and American literature. Claudia Sadowski-Smith, ASU associate professor of English and principal investigator for the Kinnaird exchange, said connecting across cultural boundaries via literature is a no-brainer:
“Literature very often is engaged with thinking about identity, which might be identity in a national sense. … And literature personalizes stories of [political and global] developments that seem so systemic, so depersonalized. It humanizes a lot of these stories that we don’t always hear about, gives us perspective, counter-narratives and counter-discourses.
“In that regard, allowing us to have seminars where we talk to each other and exchange ideas is powerful.”
Nadia Anjum, head of postgraduate studies in the Department of English at Kinnaird College for Women, said that the faculty there who have been participating in the program report feeling enriched and more confident.
“Five have presented papers at international conferences, which surely is a great achievement,” Anjum said. “The research area each one took up has strengthened our program.
“And these exchange programs are mutually beneficial — academically and generally. It has given our female practitioners exposure to U.S. educational systems, research collaboration and fostering friendships. It [has given] American universities the opportunity to reach out to a larger audience and promote American studies and literature in our part of the world. Moreover, as felt and stated by the cohorts, [it gives Americans the opportunity for] ‘closer cultural ties and to see the real Pakistan (as opposed to the picture media portrays).’ ”
The exchange between ASU and University of the Punjab focuses on transdisciplinary approaches to communication and development studies.
“One of the ways you build peace is through these kinds of exchanges; creating dialogues across these cultural spaces.”
— Carolyn Forbes, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict
Haines echoes Sadowski-Smith’s and Anjum’s sentiment in regards to the mutual benefit of exchanging ideas.
“The exposure itself, as far as pedagogy, will be hugely beneficial rather than traditional top-down methods they tend to use [in Pakistan]. As well the nature of how we do research and interact as community of scholars,” he said.
“For us at ASU, I think it’s significant in multiple ways. Development studies in the U.S. tend to be defined by very American-centric views of the world. [Americans] see development very quantitatively; it’s all about the numbers. And I think we fail to really appreciate the way in which different cultures and religions inform those processes.”
According to Saikia, the effects are already apparent.
“It is remarkable to me that as an individual I can feel [the effects]. These are community issues, and one can do something about them. I appreciate that U.S. Embassy and State Department have given us this opportunity to create these linkages.”
Click here to view a video about the ASU-University of Punjab exchange.
Top photo: Kanza Javed chats with attendees at a meeting hosted by the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at the University Club in Tempe on Nov. 2. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now