Hello there, boys and girls. My name is Matt and I will be one of your Kalamna bloggers for the next…well, I’m not really sure how long. Hopefully it’s a while. After all, like many of you current and prospective grad students, money is awfully tight and this is a part-time job. Anyway, this being my first entry on the blog, I felt it fitting to illustrate a bit about the Kevorkian Center and what goes on there.
This past Monday, I found myself sitting in on an academic workshop for visiting Professor Toby Jones. The Kevorkian center holds these events to foster “ongoing efforts…to encourage scholarship that crosses borders—between disciplines, world religions and historical periods—to develop new approaches to area studies.” In other words, it’s a program sponsored think-tank where we as students can come and look at another scholars work, weigh in on the approaches that person took to analyze a given subject, and even critique those approaches when we feel that something didn’t quite work. Needless to say these are important and beneficial events to us as students of the region. But it didn’t occur to me until I sat down and started thinking about this blog how important these events are to the entire graduate experience. Or rather, how they may represent the experience as a whole.
I had met Professor Toby Jones last year for the first time as an applicant to the graduate program at Rutgers University. I was impressed both by his work as a scholar of the Middle East and his down-to-earth demeanor in the meeting I had with him. In short, I liked the guy and when I heard that he was one of the Professors coming to the Center for a workshop, I was eager to catch up with him. After the event had ended, I was able to approach Professor Jones and talk to him for a little while. He recognized me and was happy to hear that I had moved on to an M.A. program and began to ask me what I thought about the graduate experience versus my time in undergrad. That’s when it began to click. Now, for all you prospective students reading this: listen. For all you current students reading this: sorry for being repetitive, since I’m sure this is something already readily apparent to you all. What do we do here at the center? We are here to take all of our collective understanding of the Middle East from all of our different backgrounds and experiences and think about it all in ways that haven’t been done before. Simply, as Professor Jones imparted on me, we’re here to think outside the proverbial box. So the event I attended actually serves as a good metaphor for this principle. Here in the Center, the emphasis has been and will be to extend yourself beyond academia’s disciplinary boundaries and find that “new approach”. In a nutshell, boys and girls, that is why we’re here.