by Duygu Yeni

Ph.D student, Department of Religion

In Summer 2015 I was fortunate enough to take the SU Study Abroad Course Global Perspectives, Local Contexts: Women and Gender in the Arab World, taught jointly by Prof. Carol Fadda-Conrey from the Department of English and Prof. Dana M. Olwan from Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. I want to thank them for all their hard work that made this life-changing class possible. I also take this as an opportunity to recognize the support of, and to thank, the Department of Religion for the Summer Fellowship and Graduate Research Award, and the Middle Eastern Studies Program and the Moynihan Institute for the Road to Democracy Award. I also want to thank the SU Study Abroad Of- fice for their help in facilitating international travel. Most of all, I want to thank the host institutions, Lebanese American University and the University of Jordan, for their warm welcome and hospitality, and the local and national non-governmental organizations for their time and for sharing their work with us.

This experience has been radically transformative for me both as a religion scholar in the making and as a Ph.D. student from Turkey studying in the U.S. My work focuses on gen- der and sacred texts, and is informed by feminist and postcolonial theory. I am particularly interested in the MENA region, and in exploring reflections of women’s struggles in femi- nist and religious studies scholarship. The experiences and contributions of Arab women are and have been an indispensible component of this literature. Yet, before this class, I only read those articles, books, and news about Arab women. I read them in English from thousands of miles away. This class gave me the opportunity to be in Beirut and Amman and to recognize the diversity within the Arab world while learning about gender politics in these geographies and their particular histories. It is a privilege to be physically in the spaces you read about and to share the space with the people you read about. Such an experience in itself is a very effective tool to challenge dominant assumptions and stereo- types about the Arab world. Besides providing analytical tools to address orientalism, the intersectional and interdisciplinary approach of the course is also helping me construct the theoretical orientation for my dissertation project. I look at women and gender questions as a multilayered subject shaped by local, national, and global power dynamics. This class was also very helpful for networking and building bridges with academic institutions.