Wooster Forum Takes In-depth Look at the Middle East

Speakers, artists, and performers featured during annual fall series

August 27, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — One of the world’s most intriguing yet complex regions will be the focus of the 2012 Wooster Forum when it presents “The Middle East” this fall at The College of Wooster. The annual series will feature a range of scholars, authors, and artists as they examine the fascinating spectrum of intellectual, spiritual, and artistic traditions in the region. Their analyses are based on historical research and present politics, violence and danger, advocacy and the environment, and humor and political commentary.

The series begins on Thursday, Sept. 27, when William Chittick, author and translator of Islamic texts, presents “Islam: A Religion of Love?” at 7:30 p.m. in McGaw Chapel. A College of Wooster graduate with a Ph.D. in Persian literature from Tehran University in Iran, Chittick has authored and translated 30 books and more than 100 articles on Islamic thought, Sufism, Shi’ism, and Persian literature. His books include The Heart of Islamic Philosophy and The Elixir of the Gnostics. He is currently working on further research about Sufism and Islamic philosophy.

The series continues on Tuesday, Oct. 2, when Libyan author Hisham Matar discusses “In the Country of Men” (7:30 p.m. in McGaw Chapel) based on his 2006 novel, which was the required summer reading assignment for incoming Wooster students. The book received the 2007 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Best First Book Award for Europe and South Asia and the 2007 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, among others. It has since been published in 22 languages. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, was influenced by the disappearance of his father, who was kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, and is still missing. Matar is currently a writer-in-residence for the charity First Story, which seeks to improve literacy and foster creativity in young people.

The third lecture will take place on Monday, Oct. 8, (7:30 P.M. in McGaw Chapel) when Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), talks about “Water and Middle East Peace: Challenges and Opportunities.” FoEME is a regional organization that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists to promote sustainable development and advance peace in the Middle East. A passionate advocate for peace-building efforts in the region, Bromberg has written extensively on the relationship between water issues and Middle East peace. He is an attorney by profession, and is also a fellow of the New Israel Fund and an alumnus of Yale University’s World Fellows program.

The spotlight shifts to the performing arts on Tuesday, Oct. 23 (7:30 p.m. in McGaw Chapel) when “An Evening of Sufi Music” is featured. Canadian Sufi and Ghazal musician Karim Gillani joins Senegalese Sufi singer and poet Moussa Dieng Kala for an evening of Middle Eastern entertainment with edification provided by Cheikh Anta Babou, associate professor of history and African Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Comedians Jamil Abu-Wardeh and Dean Obeidallah bring a comedic edge to the series on Thursday, Nov. 1 (7:30 p.m. in McGaw Chapel). Part of the “Axis of Evil” comedy television special that aired in the U.S. on Comedy Central and in the Middle East on Showtime Arabia, the two young comedians will share some of the humor of the Middle East. Abu-Wardeh started a grassroots effort to bring modern stand-up comedy to the Middle East, and eventually opened the first standup comedy time slot in Showtime Arab’s programming, which resulted in a groundbreaking tour of five Arab countries. Obeidallah is a Palestinian-American from New Jersey who went from being a lawyer to a political comedian and commentator. He has appeared on multiple television programs, including ABC’s “The View,” and is currently co-directing a documentary called “The Muslims are Coming,” about American-Muslim comedians touring and performing free shows across the South and West. Both believe in the ability of shared laughter to build communities across cultures.

In addition to the lectures and performances, The College of Wooster Art Museum (CWAM) will present exhibitions that explore the Middle East from two perspectives — one contemporary and one historical — Aug. 28 through Oct. 7 in Ebert Art Center (1200 Beall Ave.). The first exhibition, “Shirin Neshat: Tooba,” features a compelling two-screen video, “Tooba,” 2002, by the internationally renowned Iranian artist Shirin Neshat in Sussel Gallery. Running concurrently in the Burton D. Morgan Gallery, is “Middle Eastern Manuscripts, Ceramics, and Textiles” from the Permanent Collection. The opening reception will take place on Thursday, Sept. 6, from 6:30-8 p.m., with a gallery lecture at 7 p.m. by guest curators Sarah Mirza, assistant professor of religious studies, and Kara Morrow, assistant professor of art history.

Additional information about the Wooster Forum is available by phone (330-263-2145) or e-mail.