Lester Earns Spot at Jordanian Seminar On Islam

Rita Lester in JordanAssociate Professor of Religion Rita Lester has seen her students’ interest in Islam increase dramatically this decade. That’s why she traveled to Amman, Jordan, in January to attend the seminar, “Teaching about Islam and Middle Eastern Culture.”

Lester was one of just 12 professors in the nation selected for the seminar sponsored by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers and the Council of Independent Colleges.

There, she had the privilege of speaking directly with His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal, uncle to Jordan’s King Abdullah II. He encouraged Lester to contact his niece who is researching Muslims in China. “And he wanted to know where Nebraska was,” Lester remembered. “While still shaking his hand, I said, ‘It’s right in the middle, Your Highness.’ And he said, ‘Good. We should all aspire to be centrists.’”

The study of religion is more like the study of languages these days; people should know more than one.

Lester is a strong advocate for a comparative approach to religion study. “I went to school back when one could get a degree in religion, but really only study one religion, or even just a part of one religion,” said Lester. “The study of religion is more like the study of languages these days; people should know more than one. And knowing other ones may even help you to better know your own and yourself.”

The Jordanian prince would certainly agree with Lester on this count. He is fluent in Arabic, English, French and German. He has a degree in Oriental studies from Christ Church, Oxford University.

Lester’s experience in Jordan will strengthen her instruction in several of her classes, including “World Religions,” “Understanding Religion: Christians and Muslims,” “Women and Religion,” and “Contemporary Religious Studies.”

Rita Lester (front row, 3rd from  right) with Prince El Hassan bin Talal (front row, middle)Her travels won’t end with her return from Jordan. Next summer she hopes to travel to China on a Fulbright-Hayes grant (if funded), attend lectures on Muslims in China and take a guided tour of Xi’an’s Great Mosque. In summer 2011, Lester plans to enroll in the International Faculty Development Seminar, “Religious Diversity and Conflict in France.”