How to Teach about the Middle East — and Get it Right: Islam through Art
How to Teach about the Middle East — and Get it Right! That may seem like a daunting order to any educator. The MENA region is so large and broad in scope, it can be difficult to determine where to start or how to approach certain topics, especially when teaching children or young adults. Thanks to generous funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the Center for Middle Eastern & North African Studies (CMENAS) and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies have partnered to provide a five-part spring webinar series that equips educators to teach about the region through a variety of topics, from history, art, hip hop, and gender, to sensory experiences and journalism in the region. The virtual series also provides content and pedagogical resources.
On January 28, 2021, the webinar series kicked off, featuring Christiane Gruber, Professor in the History of Art Department at U-M. Her audience comprised 119 educators from across the country and the world, including Canada, Turkey, Italy, and India. Gruber’s talk focused on how to teach Islamic art in Grade 6-14 classrooms. In a highly interactive session, Gruber solicited impressions, questions, and interpretations as she discussed multiple artistic and architectural pieces from various Islamic domains and cultures.
She began by focusing on Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, a building that many attendees were already familiar with. She described its architectural features, gave structural examples, and instructed about approaching discussions of religious symbols, especially in a geo-political complex so hotly contested. Additionally, Gruber shared imagery of the “Byzano-Islamic” monument’s interior and exterior, explaining the meanings of motifs, inscriptions, and imagery in a broader context.
Gruber’s second module focusing on figural imagery unsurprisingly elicited a flurry of questions and remarks in Chat from the teachers. If depicted at all in art, Prophet Muhammad has generally been shown veiled. Given the controversy over his depictions, Gruber provided teachers with visual analysis and resources to sensitively teach about these and other prophetic representations.
The session then turned to contemporary mural art. In small groups, the teachers watched and discussed a video clip of protest art dedicated to George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020.
Gruber’s presentation, which was recorded and posted on Youtube, and her resources, which were freely provided, serve as a guide and toolkit on teaching U.S. and international students knowledgeably and accurately about the Middle East. Overall, the audience was thrilled with the session.
Recordings of each session, as they become available, can be found here.