Sarah Lawrence, Manhattan Style
Being asked to talk about Islam is like being asked, in the summer of 1942, to give a talk about German high culture,” religion faculty member Cameron Afzal told 20 alumnae/i gathered in an apartment overlooking Central Park, on the eve of war in Iraq.
Afzal’s lecture, “Islam in Historical Perspective,” was one of six linked presentations held last spring as part of the first “Sarah Lawrence in Manhattan” seminar series.
Arranged in conjunction with the College’s Center for Continuing Education Director an in-depth look at the contemporary and historical Middle East, the series was hosted by Suzanne Salter Arkin ’60, whose comfortable living room offered an enticing view of the twinkling city skyline. Unlike the College’s popular Faculty on the Road series, which features one faculty member for an evening and is open to all alumnae/i in a particular area, the Manhattan seminars set aside just 20 spaces for the run of the series, which met over a two-month period. Alums from the 1940’s to the 1990’s snapped up every space within a week of receiving the announcement brochure.
“There’s obviously an interest and a hunger here,” said Susan Ferris-Kline ’70, who, with Arkin, conceived the program. Attending reading groups in the city, Arkin said, reminded her how much she missed the intimacy and intelligence of the Sarah Lawrence classroom environment. She and Ferris-Kline created a Powerpoint presentation to help convey their concept of the series to the College and, after ironing out the particulars, CCE Director Lang recruited four SLC faculty members – Afzal, Jamee Moudud (economics), Shahnaz Rouse (sociology) and Raymond Seidelman (political science). Classes included “Poverty, Inequality and the Political Economy of Oil,” “The War in Iraq and U.S. Public Opinion” and “Understanding ‘Political Islam’: The Case of Pakistan.”
“We wanted to deal with something that’s got some guts to it,” said Arkin. “We were driven.”
Seminar participants enjoyed the teachers, Lang said, and were eager to do the assigned reading. “The questions from attendees, and the demand for readings, show the interest and dedication to task of these alums and their desire to further their own education.”
The College is considering making the city seminars an annual spring event; future topics might include contemporary art and post-colonialism studies.