Author: Rachel Silver
“Turkey: Then & Now,” a comprehensive course studying thousands of years of Turkish history, is set to return in the 2012 fall term. Led by religious studies professor Kristi Upson-Saia, the four unit program will conclude with a two-week excursion through Turkey.
“There are just layers upon layers of other cultures and other religions that are piled on top of the stuff that you’re looking at,” Upson-Saia said of the importance of studying Turkey. “It’s really a place that is incredibly rich in terms of the cultural overlap and cultural contact.”
Upson-Saia established the program in spring 2009, which was the last time the class was held. “It went so perfectly last time,” Upson-Saia said. It has taken three years to update the itinerary and plan with the International Programs Office for a second round, and now applicants are competing for the 12-16 slots in this year’s program.
The class also includes a research component. Students will conduct their own independent research projects, which they will then present at a relevant site in Turkey.
While the group travels with a Turkish guide, a Turkish governmental requirement, Upson-Saia says there isn’t any danger in their travels.
“We’re staying central-west which is really the safest in Turkey, not volatile at all,” Upson-Saia said. The itinerary is available on the IPO webpage.
In selecting students for the program, Upson-Saia seeks an interdisciplinary group of students who will conduct a variety of research projects. In the 2009 program, the 13 students represented 12 different major/minor programs.
“On the last trip, I had a geologist who taught me about the fault lines in Turkey. I had an art historian who taught me about the architecture of Hagia Sophia,” Upson-Saia said.
The first three-quarters of the term cover 3700 years of history
in the land now defined as Turkey. The last quarter focuses on the students’ independent research and preparation for travel. The class provides broad historical context to pre
pare students for travel in Turkey, but the research is not limited to historical or religious subject matter.
Religious Studies major Brian Cropper (junior) is a current applicant. His interest in the program came from a week in Istanbul during his recent semester abroad in Jordan. He is formalizing a research proposition for religious text analysis and its relation to interfaith dialogue in Asia Minor.
“Some stories found in the Qur’an that are attributed to the Christian faith are not canonized, meaning they are not verified as authentic scripture. I want to research why these narratives are not included and what effects they have had on Muslims’ understanding of Christianity,” Cropper said.
A significant goal of the program is a shared intellectual experience for the students. The two weeks result in continuous discussion and observation.
“These [informal conversations], for me, were the most rewarding moments of the trip,” Upson-Saia said in her final written report on the 2009 trip. “I was thoroughly impressed with their sustained sympathetic and yet critical engagement with all of the sites and experiences on the itinerary.”
The application for the program is due on March 2, and Upson-Saia estimates that around 45 students are applying.
“I’m really excited to be talking with the students who are applying because they seem really high-caliber,” Upson-Saia said.
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