October Engagements in Cultural Awareness: Topics in Islam and the Middle East

By: Cayenne Garofalo

The need for Americans of all backgrounds to become more knowledgeable about the complexity and splendor of Islamic culture has never been so strong as it is today. While hate crimes against Muslims and individuals perceived to be Muslims have been high in the last three years, and the Obama administration considers unprecedented military and diplomatic interventions in Muslim majority countries such as Syria and Iran, many non-Muslim Americans lack an adequate knowledge of the people, places, culture and history of this rich religion.

Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World (2011), which will be showing this month on campus, is a documentary film that intends to bridge this culture gap by presenting and discussing the intricate beauty of Islamic Art. The film covers 9 countries and over 1,400 years of art, culture, and history, highlighting diverse forms including calligraphy and architecture, while also offering insight into greater themes in art that traverse cultural, religious and geographical boundaries. Islamic Art is executive produced by Michael Wolfe and Alex Kronemer, produced and directed by Robert Gardner, and narrated by Susan Sarandon.


Roof of Hāfezieh (The Tomb of Hafez), in Shiraz, Iran is a fine example of Islamic art. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Roof of Hāfezieh (The Tomb of Hafez), in Shiraz, Iran is a scintillating example of Islamic art. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


The film will show for free at 7:00pm on Wednesday, October 16th in room 329 of Smith Memorial Student Union, followed by a discussion with PSU’s new Adjunct Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture, Keelan Overton. The film will be presented by the PSU Library in collaboration with the Middle East Studies Center, a bountiful resource on Middle East topics in itself.

Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World, is one of the featured resources of the Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys, a project developed by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association. The Bookshelf, a collection of 25 books, 4 DVDs and numerous other resources, was compiled to help the public in the United States become better acquainted with Islam in a historical, cultural and personal way. The project works to address the increasing desire and necessity in America for reliable resources about the beliefs, practices and heritage of Islamic civilizations and cultures. In 2013, 843 libraries (including PSU) were awarded the Bookshelf for purpose of presenting Islamic topics to the public.

Similarly tied to the theme of cultural awareness, the Portland book club A Day in the Life: Memoirs from the Middle East, is holding events in October to encourage understanding of specifically Middle Eastern topics. Sponsored by a wide array of departments and groups including the Department of English and the Middle East Studies Center of PSU, as well as the Portland Center for the Public Humanities, A Day in the Life, according to their website, “aims to dispel common stereotypes of the Middle East by exploring literature from the region.”

Front cover of Girls of the Factory, image from A Day in the Life book club.

Front cover of Girls of the Factory, image from A Day in the Life book club.


On October 1st at 6:15pm they will present a discussion with Prof. M Laetitia Cairoli in the US Bank Room of the Multnomah County Central Library, which will center around her experiences gathering information for her book, Girls of the Factory, in Fez, Morocco, where she observed women working in the local garment industry, and examined how their employment is perceived both inside and outside of their own culture.

On October 8th at 7pm, A Day in the Life will present a discussion titled Memory, Authenticity & the Genre of Memoir in Smith Memorial Student Union, room 328. This discussion will focus on the meaning of memoir as compared to memory, and specific challenges of the form to non-western and underrepresented writers.



Links for more information:

A trailer for Islamic Art can be seen at www.islamicart.tv.

For more about the A Day in the Life book club, go to: www.middleeastpdx.org.

Middle East Studies Center: http://www.pdx.edu/middle-east-studies/