Islamic Studies Center expands with new hire

The Duke Islamic Studies Center is celebrating the hiring of its first full-time employee this week, one of several major steps the center has taken since it was endowed last November.

Kelly Jarrett, a scholar of religion and most recently senior editorial assistant of the Journal of American Literature at Duke University Press, started work Friday as DISC's new administrative director. She earned a Ph.D. in religion from the University in 2000.

"I certainly think that working to promote cross-cultural understanding is very important work in these times," Jarrett said, adding that she is still getting her bearings in the new position.

"I like working in a university setting, being around students and being around people who are intellectually and politically engaged."

Jarrett's hiring comes after a productive summer for the center, during which it was officially authorized by the provost's office and created a FOCUS program slated for Spring 2007.

"It was a summer of making building blocks and then putting them to good use in trying to construct the future," said DISC Director Bruce Lawrence, who is also the Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus humanities professor of religion.

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Jarrett earned a B.S. from the University of Illinois and an Masters of Divinity from Yale University. She said the position at Duke was appealing to her because of its strong emphasis on undergraduate studies rather than more rarefied, higher level research.

Jarrett will spend much of her time working to get two programs for undergraduate students up and running in addition to creating an interdisciplinary certificate program in Islamic Studies, Lawrence said.

"Kelly has three things on her list: FOCUS and getting the Islamic Studies certificate program fully in place; and the other thing that is very much in progress is a chance for [Islamic Studies] students to go abroad in summer 2007," he said.

Students participating in the summer program will take part in an Islamic studies program at Oxford University in England.

DISC also received a $1.5-million gift in May from a group calling itself the Friends of Bruce Lawrence to provide fellowships for students from predominantly Muslim nations to study at the University.

The tentatively titled "Muslim Cultures" FOCUS, slated for Fall 2006, was pushed back after planning problems.

President of the Muslim Student Association Sayed Zaman, a senior majoring in religion, said he welcomed the center.

Zaman pointed to rising enrollment in languages such as Arabic as evidence that strong interest in Islamic culture exists on campus, and said he has noticed an increased interest in Islamic issues over time at the University.

"If there's anything that could be useful nowadays, its more awareness about Islamic issues," he said. "I definitely think there's a lot of student interest."

Zaman said he hopes that as DISC evolves, it will engage the Duke community in many out-of-classroom learning opportunities, in addition to strictly academic work.

The FOCUS problems have not been the only speed bump in the establishment of the center.

A committee conducted a search for an Islamic studies chair last spring and offered the job, but the selectee was forced to withdraw due to a family conflict.

A second committee, including Lawrence, Vice Provost for International Affairs Gil Merkx and Ebrahim Moosa, associate professor of Islamic studies in the religion department and director of the Center for Study of Muslim Networks, is now conducting a new search. Lawrence said the chair can come from any of a wide range of disciplines, including history, cultural anthropology, sociology and political science.

Jarrett said that as the center develops, it will hold lectures, film series and consortia relating to Islamic studies.

Miriam Cooke, professor of Asian and African languages and literature, hopes to present a series of films focusing on women in Islamic nations in the spring.


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