The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Haigazian University organized a full day symposium entitled “The Relevance of Intercultural Studies in the 21st Century”, which took place on Friday, the 25th of January, 2019, in the University Auditorium. The symposium, which brought together scholars from various Lebanese universities, and a big crowd of students, examined the current and future relevance and importance of Intercultural Studies in the Liberal Arts Educational programs.
In her welcoming address, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Arda Ekmekji shared with the audience the purpose of the symposium, “to collectively reflect on the merit of Intercultural Studies courses, their components, the teaching methodology and the choice of texts to be read”. Ekmeji stressed on the fact that such courses are usually University requirements aiming at creating a large base of discussion and intercultural exchange. “What we do in these courses is plant seeds, we do not know when they will germinate and bloom”, Ekmekji concluded.
In his word, Haigazian University President, Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian, shared his personal experience on how the Intercultural Studies courses impacted him during his student years at Haigazian University. “They created in me a rich interest regarding the depth, width and the corners of human thought, belief and being,” he said. Haidostian put particular emphasis on the class discussions and interactions among the students who came from different cultural identities of various ethnic, national and religious types.
In his Keynote Speech entitled “Half a Century of Intercultural Studies”, Director of the CVSP at the American University of Beirut (AUB), Mr. Peter Shebeya, underlined the vital importance of the “Humanities” in the Liberal Arts institutions, focusing in particular on the notion of “empathy”; in this respect, Shebaya considered this inevitable existential encounter with “the other”, the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, the thoughts, and the value system this other person is experiencing from within his frame of reference, is what makes a real human being.
In the first panel, three consecutive presentations shed light on “The Status of Intercultural Studies Today”. It was moderated by Dr. Oussama Arabi from the IST Program at Haigazian University.
First to speak was Dr. Samira Aghacy, Former Dean of Humanities at the Lebanese American University (LAU). In her presentation entitled “The Current Status of Liberal Arts Program”, Aghacy outlined the major challenge education is facing, and that is the decrease in demand of Liberal Arts education in favor of vocational and professional education.
Dr. Kamal Abou Chedid, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the Notre Dame University (NDU), presented the “Status of Intercultural Studies in 15 counties in the MENA Region”; his statistical and analytical studies showed great evidence of the predominance of functional education over liberal Arts education, as a bridge to the labor market.
Dr. Elias Halabi, Director of the Christian Muslim Studies Center at the University of Balamand (UOB), talked about the “Relevance of Intercultural Studies in a Multireligious Context”, emphasizing on the responsibility and duty of universities in promoting inter-cultural atmosphere, enhancing dialogue, tolerance, exposure and debate among students of different faiths.
The second panel was prepared by Haigazian University IST Program Faculty, presenting the University’s perspective vis a vis the Future of Intercultural Studies. It was moderated by Ms. Anita Moutchoyan.
First to speak was Dr. Berge Traboulsi on “Curricular Reform in Higher Education: Redesigning the Intercultural Studies Program”. In his speech, Traboulsi presented various types of approach to Education, such as the Socratic, the UNESCO and the De Bono-like approaches. He concluded by proposing three courses towards redesigning the Intercultural Studies program: History of Human Thoughts, Glocal Citizenship and Leadership.
For his part discussing “Cultural Studies at the Crossroads: Prospects in a Neoliberal Age”, Dr. Ziad Suidan gave a warning note about the future of cultural studies in the age when neoliberalism has threatened its foundation, raising questions such as: Will it become relevant in the French sense by being crossed out and written over? Will it become an act of double speak under George Orwell’s signature? Or will it remain in its current status a challenge to our neoliberal age?
In his intervention titled “Culture, Critical Thinking and Soft Power”, Dr. Joseph Al Agha situated cultural studies within these dynamics and discussed the symbiotic relationship and interdependence among cultural studies, popular culture and cultural diplomacy.
The symposium concluded with the participation of student Gayane Madzounian, who was there to present the students’ perceptions of Intercultural Studies courses. According to a research conducted on campus, Madzounian stated that students usually complain about the general requirements courses. However, Mazounian pointed out firmly that while major courses teach “how to do things”, the Intercultural Studies courses teach “why one does those things”. She went further to present the beneficial objectives of such courses in analyzing and debating crucial ideas and problems of humanity, in addition to applying ideas and methodologies to the contemporary world situation.
An interactive session of Q&A followed each panel, allowing the audience to participate in stimulating discussions.
Public Relations Director