UH-Clear Lake students study in Turkey
HOUSTON — For 11 days in May 2011, 10 students from University of Houston-Clear Lake and the University of Houston traveled throughout Turkey studying the country’s cultural landscapes. Led by the School of Human Sciences and Humanities Associate Professor of Geography Jeff Lash and Associate Professor of Sociology Mike McMullen, and in collaboration with the Houston-based Institute of Interfaith Dialog, the itinerary included stopovers in the cities of Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir, Kayseri, and Konya.
“Throughout the field study, students became acquainted with Turkish culture by reading its highly varied geographic and cultural landscape,” explained Lash. “Masterpieces of religious architecture such as the Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (also known as the “Blue Mosque”) in Istanbul, the Great Mosque in Bursa, and the Temple of Hadrian located in the city of Ephesus that is now a spectacular outdoor museum, allowed students to experience more than two thousand years of spiritual expression.”
Visits to the House of the Virgin Mary or “Meryem Ana Evi”, (Mother Mary’s Home) in Selçuk near Izmir, and to the antique ruins of the Basilica of St. John, built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, provided context for the history of Christianity. Lash added that Christianity’s strong presence resonates in the naming of the nearby Selçuk-era Isa Bey Mosque, or the Lord Jesus Mosque.
In the city of Konya, set on a high plain in the middle of the Anatolian steppe, students became acquainted with the life and times of Mevlâna Celaleddin Rumi, or simply Rumi, one of the Islamic world’s greatest Sufi mystics and the founder of the Mevlevi order better known as the “Whirling Dervishes.” Lash added that Rumi’s literary works are well loved around the world and he is one of the best selling poets in America, even eight centuries after his death.
Just west of Kayseri, in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey, students toured the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site of Göreme National Park. In this spectacular landscape of eroded fossilized volcanic ash, students experienced underground dwellings, convents, kitchens, wineries, and granaries, and churches containing 4th century Byzantine art. The region was the launching point of the idea of the Holy Trinity, as well as the iconoclastic movement and remains an important pilgrimage site for Christians who have more than 300 ancient churches to select from. Archeologists have discovered several underground cities that are connected by underground roads, some of which may have been built as far back as the Neolithic period.
Lash said that students’ exposure to historic landscapes was balanced with visits to contemporary sites such as elementary schools, high schools, universities, a writers’ and journalists’ association, and numerous cultural museums. These visits allowed students to better understand how Turkey integrates secular citizenship, education, and human development with Islamic spirituality. During the tour, participants were introduced to members of the Gülen community, a transnational civic movement engaged in altruistic service for the common good and intercultural dialogue. School principals, journalists, and members of the business community discussed how the movement’s philosophy guides socio-economic development in one of the world’s most dynamic societies.
In Houston, Turkish-Americans and their friends established the Institute of Interfaith Dialog in 2002 as a non-profit educational organization. The institute aims to eliminate or reduce false stereotypes, prejudices and unjustified fears through direct human communication. It is with this goal in mind that UH-Clear Lake Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Studies Maria Curtis, a, first approached the institute with a proposal to develop a permanent UHCL study abroad program in Turkey in 2007.
“Without Dr. Curtis’ dedication to cross-cultural education,” stated Lash, “this year’s study abroad program would not have happened.”
UH-Clear Lake’s School of Human Sciences and Humanities plans to conduct the fourth annual Turkey Summer Study Abroad Program in May 2012. For more information about study abroad opportunities and possible study abroad scholarships, call the Office of International Initiatives, 281-283-3008, visit http://www.uhcl.edu/OII or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
University of Houston-Clear Lake offers 40 undergraduate and 45 graduate degree programs, including a doctoral program, from its four schools, which include the School of Business, School of Education, School of Human Sciences and Humanities, and School of Science and Computer Engineering. For more UH-Clear Lake news and information, visit UH-Clear Lake’s newsroom, http://www.uhcl.edu/news, or follow UH-Clear Lake on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/UHClearLake and Twitter, http://twitter.com/UHClearLake.