Duke hosts “Dimensions of the Middle East”

Summer Institute provides professional development for 6-12 grade educators.

by Catherine Angst

The Duke Islamic Studies Center and the Duke University Middle East Studies Center in partnership with the Qatar Foundation International (QFI) hosted forty 6-12 grade educators for a five-day summer institute from June 24-29, 2018.

“This institute will completely shift your perspective,” said Jennifer McKinney, a high school history teacher from Fort Smith, Arkansas, “It’s one of those life-changing institutes.”

Professor lectures classroom

Professor Erdağ Göknar, Ph.D. lectures on teaching the Ottoman Empire.

Throughout the week teachers engaged with university experts on a variety of topics to expand their understanding of the cultures, histories, and geopolitics of the Middle East. Lecture titles included:

  • “Religious Diversity of the Middle East” with Professor Carl Ernst, Ph.D.
  • “Women and Leadership in the Arab World” with Professor Nadia Yaqub, Ph.D
  • “Contemporary Turkey from Ataürk to the AKP” with Professor Erdağ Göknar, Ph.D.
  • “An End – Or A Beginning?: The Arab Uprisings of 2011 as History” with Professor James Gelvin, Ph.D.

“We have designed the institute’s program of study around common themes in state curricula, as well as frequently asked questions about the region,” said Emma Harver, a partner on the program from the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies. Beyond lectures, the educators participated in specialty breakout sessions, curriculum building workshops, and a panel discussion on Islamophobia with local Muslim community members.

Institute participants partook in several extracurricular cultural experiences. Teachers donned their chef hats and prepared a Middle Eastern feast as part of a cooking enrichment class. They also toured the Islamic Center of Raleigh’s school and observed prayer.


Preparing the chicken tagine.

“One of the biggest things I’ll bring back to my classroom is a comparison between of world religions,” said Kevin Wagner, a world history teacher from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, “There are so many things that the Islamic faith shares with Judaism and Christianity.”

A review committee selected this year’s participants through a competitive, nation-wide application. The educators represented 21 different states and a variety of teaching disciplines from social sciences, language arts, and more.  “The committee was quite impressed with the number and quality of applications to this program,” Harver noted.

Duke and QFI piloted this summer institute in June 2017 with the theme “The Middle East and Islam: New perspectives of Islamic History from the 16th century to the present”. The pilot institute was quite successful, so the program grew to double the size of its teacher cohort this summer.

Duke Hosts Middle East and Islam Summer Institute

Twenty-three educators from around the country convene on campus to develop 6-12 grade curricula.

From June 25-29, 2017 Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center led “The Middle East and Islam: New perspectives of Islamic History from the 16th century to the present” a summer institute for middle and high school educators from around the country. Over the course of the program, the educators attended lectures by Duke University, North Carolina State University, and University of North Carolina professors, and received specialized resources from the Duke Libraries.



Throughout the week, programming focused on different themes including the Ottoman and Safavid Empires of Turkey and Iran, and Islam in America. The educators were assigned readings from several books before arriving on campus and came prepared with questions. Participants engaged in daily curriculum session and discussions with university experts in K-12 education and Middle East Studies.


Along with their studies, the educators also partook in several experiential learning activities: film screenings, visiting a local mosque, and eating a variety of traditional Middle Eastern cuisines. “Our hope for the summer institute is to introduce teachers to new, engaging content and resources, and provide a space for participants to form networks with like-minded educators across the country,” said Emma Harver, a partner on the program from the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies.

Students in library training

Emma Harver watches librarian Mohamed Hamed deliver a library resource training session at the Edge.


Program participants were selected through a nation-wide search which received over 110 applications. A committee of teachers and Middle East specialists selected the program attendees which represent 14 states, teach a variety of disciplines, and work with both middle and high school students.


“I know for myself, I came in with a fairly solid understanding of Islam, but the institute was still able to tell me there was still a lot of things that I didn’t know and that I was open to learning about,” said Tara Rana, a Global History teacher from New York City, New York.


Learn more about the Duke Islamic Studies summer institute.


Group photo

Participants of the 2017 Middle East and Islam Summer Institute for Educators.


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