Religion Professor's Classroom Enhanced by Recent Middle East Experience

In the 10 years that religion professor Rita Lester has taught at Nebraska Wesleyan University, she has seen an increasing demand for courses on Islam.

Having just returned from Amman, Jordan, she is now sharing her experience and fresh perspective with her students.

Lester was one of 12 professors in the nation selected to attend a seminar last month in Jordan titled, “Teaching About Islam and Middle Eastern Culture.” The seminar was sponsored by the Council of American Research Centers and the Council of Independent Colleges.

“It was much more beyond that,” said Lester.

During her three-week experience, Lester attended lectures by scholars, visited art galleries, traveled to Petra, and visited numerous biblical sites, including Bethany, Aaron’s Tomb, and Mount Nebo. Lester also met with female Muslim college students who were studying in disciplines such as archaeology. She also met Prince Hassan of Jordan.

Lester noted two significant highlights: spending time with 11 other professors and learning how they incorporate Muslim and Islam in their curriculum, and visiting the Palestinian Refugee Camp, Baqa’a in Jordan. The camp has over 90,000 refugees, the majority of which are young girls.

Lester was amazed by the way “young children define and redefine home.”

This was Lester’s first visit to the Middle East even though she has spent years studying Islamic scholars and researched the topic during her 2007 sabbatical at the Encounter World Religions Centre in Toronto.

She’s incorporating much of what she learned into her curriculum for the four general education classes that focus on Islam.

“Although I have read and learned about Islam, experiencing it offered a new perspective,” she said.

The experience was so rewarding, she now hopes to inspire others to take the chance she did and explore another place.

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