Without question, June is consistently our busiest month of the year at the Institute of Middle East Studies. As such, we wish to highlight a number of the projects that we have been working on as we seek to fulfill our institutional mandate: To bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond.
1) Middle East Consultation 2015 – Discipleship Today: Identity and Belonging in the Middle East & North Africa (June 15-19)
The Middle East Consultation 2015 – Discipleship Today: Identity and Belonging in the Middle East & North Africa, 15 – 19 June 2015, focuses on specific opportunities and challenges related to “identity” and “belonging” that face followers of Jesus within the MENA context. These challenges are particularly important given the diverse socio-religious and cultural backgrounds of Christ-followers in the region and of those leaders who seek to disciple them.
We live in a world where belonging to multiple social and cultural traditions is the reality for many. Identity can be understood as a complex and multi-dimensional aspect of human life, formed in response to a variety of dynamic social, cultural, historical, political, religious and spiritual experiences and commitments within today’s globalized and interconnected world.
As such, the core of MEC 2015 consists of listening to in-depth testimonies from those who live in the midst of specific challenges pertaining to identity and belonging. The consultation also provides an opportunity to reflect upon and analyze the diverse social and religious dynamics at hand through a process of theological reflection via round-table discussion, conversations with global thinkers from diverse social and cultural backgrounds, and practical training workshops.
2) MRel in MENA Studies – MENA History, Politics and Economics Residency (June 22-July 3)
Immediately following MEC 2015, students in IMES’s Master of Religion in Middle Eastern and North African Studies (MRel in MENA Studies) program begin two very full weeks for the residency portion of their MENA History, Politics and Economics module, under the supervision of Dr. Rupen Das. As lead faculty for the MENA History, Politics and Economics module Dr. Das will be assisted by Jesse Wheeler as support instructor and Elias Ghazal as holistic formation instructor.
The MENA History, Politics and Economics module seeks to develop an inter‐disciplinary understanding of the historical, political and economic dynamics that have shaped the contemporary Middle East and North Africa. This course looks at the formative historical developments of the modern era, major macroeconomic issues at present, and the complexities of regional poverty. It seeks also to explore the manner by which such realities intersect with the idea of the Kingdom of God, as a lens through which to understand and engage with the contemporary MENA. As part of the residency, students will gain training in contextual analysis, needs assessment and problem analysis, project design (developing the logic for change), and peace-building frameworks and strategies, as well as learning first hand from a variety of practitioners in the region.
During their residency, students and faculty will be together in the same location for a unique and intensive learning experience, all the while being exposed to the rich historical, cultural, and religious heritage of the Middle East. As part of their residency, students from as far away as Brazil, Cyprus, the U.K., Korea, the U.S., Egypt, Singapore, Tanzania, and of course Lebanon itself will be studying the MENA region, within the MENA region!
3) Middle East Immersion, Lebanon 2015 (June 15 – July 17)
Middle East Immersion (MEI), Lebanon provides international students the opportunity to practice intercultural work in a dynamic context and engage in mutual learning between Christian and Muslim communities. Graduate seminary and intercultural studies students have the opportunity to earn academic credit in fulfillment of practicum requirements, while being exposed to Muslim-Christian relations in the context of Lebanon.
Now in its 9th year, MEI Lebanon has hosted international students from Fuller Theological Seminary, Truett Theological Seminary, Talbot School of Theology, Bethel Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, among others, who have come to spend their summers in Lebanon and study under the guidance of IMES.
While in Lebanon, students participate in the following:
4) The Feast, Lebanon
The Feast in Lebanon is about great quality youth work with religiously diverse young people who are committed to their faith. IMES helps facilitate a youth group in Lebanon comprised of Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslim, Maronite Christian, and Evangelical Christian young people, aged 15-19. Over time, and as the young people get to know each other better, we hope that not only they but their families and communities will be impacted for the better.
While it is a good end in and of itself for individual young people’s relationships to be developed with those from different faith communities, it is our hope that The Feast, by virtue of these relationships, will also have wider peace-building implications. The Feast Lebanon youth group meets every two weeks for a diverse menu of activities, each inspired by faith.
The Feast is about religion [and religious faith] having a positive impact, rather than what is often considered negative. Yet, as an intentionally youth-led initiative, we encourage young people to decide on the specific activities they themselves see as important [and fun]. In the future, we hope to be able to put on ‘Feast events’ in different parts of Lebanon, thus creating a movement of young people who will break down the barriers of ignorance and mistrust.