Last updateFri, 08 May 2020 6pm


Should There be More Study of Philosophy, Religion, and Interdisciplinary Studies at Monmouth?

According to the United States Census Bureau, there are over 322 million people living in the United States and over seven billion in the world. This is remarkable but there is one issue, how can all of these people get along? Humans have been at war with each other for as far back as history can trace. This is evident in the current terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, CA and  in Paris in which the Islamic extremist group, ISIS, has taken credit for. Today, the challenge for Americans is to quell threats like ISIS, while still being open and tolerant to those who hold different ideological, political, religious, and cultural beliefs. There is not a simple answer to this problem but according to multiple University professors, learning more about interdisciplinary studies which include ideological, political, religious, and cultural beliefs.

Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Interdisciplinary Studies, Dr. Golam Mathbor, who is from Bangladesh, said “The number one problem in the world is ignorance. The core point of interdisciplinary studies is to learn about each other.” Unfortunately, Monmouth University students cannot major or even minor in interdisciplinary studies. According to Mathbor, there are only seven or eight courses available in his department during a given semester. He said, “We need a strong interdisciplinary or global studies program.” This could help quell tension between different groups because it would help students to develop “holistic thinking” and to “see what is happening in the grassroots.” However, most of these interdisciplinary topic can only be found in other majors and is not a program itself.

Professor of Political Science Saliba Sarsar, who teaches various classes on Islam and the Middle East said, “As global citizens, we have an obligation to learn as much as possible about the world around us” and “By learning about others, we can learn more about ourselves.” Sarsar’s interesting background has especially allowed him to see various perspectives. According to Elaine Durbach of New Jersey Jewish News, Sarsar spoke in front of the Jewish Community Campus (JCC) on April 29 of this year and said, “My father was a White Russian prince” and his mother was Greek. Born and raised as a Christian in Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control at the time, Sarsar “grew up caught between the Jewish and Muslim communities, and with memories of fleeing during one of the periodic eruptions of violence.” Sarsar explained in front of the JCC that it wasn’t until the six day war in 1967 where he realized that Jews were not the enemy like he was taught, and that “they were just like us.”

Sarsar is now an avid supporter of peace in the region. He believes that problems like these can be solved through, “small successes through dialogue.” He also said that “dialogue is one thing action is another” and that it doesn’t matter which faith but is about “How you put faith into action.” In terms of how interdisciplinary classes can help prevent misconceptions about groups, he said, “There needs to be a safe place to engage in debate and dialogue” and that “We need to respect other views. We need to create a balance to create awareness and understanding.”

Junior chemistry student at Monmouth University and a student in Sarsar’s Islam and Politics class said, “As a Muslim, I want people to try to understand the depth of Islam. As an institution spanning 14 centuries, Islam has spread all over the world and provides a sense of identity for more than 1.5 billion people, the overwhelming majority of whom practice peacefully.” She continued to say, “Interdisciplinary courses like Islam and Politics are increasingly necessary because they contextualize daily phenomena, thereby helping us relate to others and the larger global community.”

Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in History at Monmouth University, Maryanne Rhett, agreed said, “I’d like to have open dialogue in a safe space where people can disagree” and said, “I think the classroom is one of the best places to do that.” Rhett teaches courses on topics such as the Arab- Palestinian conflict and other classes on Middle Eastern, Islamic, and world history. She said that “We are losing vantage points for people to have these conversations.” A good example of this could be the polarized political climate in today’s society. Rhett said that “People group people into narrow categories” and that “There is a breakdown of dialogue.”

Dr. George Gonzalez, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Religion and Interdisciplinary Studies at Monmouth University teaches classes such as Comparative Religions and classes that touch on religious philosophy. He said, “I think cultural and religious literacy is absolutely essential if one is to avoid falling into the trap of a dangerous parochialism that assumes that one’s position is somehow ‘neutral’ or the best or only way to be human.” In terms of teaching classes, he said “I am not sure we do ourselves any favors if we tuck religion away from the critical reflection proper to the secular university” he said, “There is an old adage that we don’t like people to mess with our sports and our religion.”

It’s a self-defeating posture because it allows misunderstanding and resentment rooted in ignorance to breed.” In terms of interdisciplinary studies and what he teaches, “It is important to remember that ‘religion’ does not exist outside of the particular context in which it is lived.” He continued, “It cannot be distilled and removed from the messy welter of lived history that includes the political, economic, historical and psychological modalities of human experience.”

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