Exchange programs between ASU, Pakistan universities allow for academic, cultural advancement
Hands go up in a crowded ASU lecture hall when a social justice course instructor asks who has ever experienced prejudice. The instructor asks another question: Are any of you willing to share that experience?
The hands start going down. One girl, toward the front, keeps hers raised. The instructor gestures for her to speak, and the room gets quiet. The student tells how she no longer feels comfortable wearing her hijab on campus because of the negative comments and looks it elicits from people.
That was in 2007.
Nearly a decade later, American perceptions of Muslims have arguably become even more adverse due to factors like the rise of militant extremist groups, such as ISIS, who commit mass global terror attacks, allegedly in the name of Islam.
At the same time, the Muslim world’s perception of the Western world has become increasingly circumspect due various factors, such as American military presence in Middle Eastern countries where Islam is largely practiced.
“When I went [to Pakistan] in the 1990s, I couldn’t walk down the street without people saying, ‘You’re American? Come in for tea,’ ” Chad Haines said. “In 2009 when I went as a Fulbright Fellow it was a different story.”
Haines, assistant professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University, serves as the principal investigator for one of two academic exchange programs between ASU and universities in Pakistan.
The first, which began in the fall of 2014, is an exchange between ASU’s Department of EnglishThe School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and the Department of English are units of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. and Kinnaird College for Women. The second, launched in the fall of 2015, is an exchange between ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the University of the Punjab, involving both journalism and development studies.
The programs, each lasting three years, are made possible by two separate $1 million grants from the U.S. State Department to ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, which facilitates the programs. Their goal is to establish long-term, ongoing relationships and understanding between Pakistani academic institutions of higher learning and those in the United States.
That goal is achieved by the exchange of faculty members each semester, where they take seminars which teach them about U.S. teaching methods and pedagogy, have discussions about differences and similarities between cultures and even present research.
As Carolyn Forbes, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, puts it, “One of the ways you build peace is through these kinds of exchanges — creating dialogues across these cultural spaces.”
Forbes worked with each program’s team to develop the proposals for the grants. Invaluable to that process was Yasmin Saikia, an ASU professor of history who had been working with Haines and ASU English professor Neal Lester on how to implement humanities research in impactful ways.
A native of India, Saikia’s studies focus on the histories of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
History, she says, is simply the stories of people in places — places marked by borders on maps. And the boundaries that exist between those spaces — those countries or territories — she realized were more often than not determined by things like religion and politics. They also served to create divisions between people, even when the actual distance that separated them was very small.
Saikia points to the huge amount of conflict between neighboring countries India and Pakistan, which prompted her to wonder: “How did we get to the point where we live in a state of perpetual enmity?”