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Session R6299 (Let’s Put It All Together!: Pedagogical Fluency in the Middle East Studies Classroom after 2020), 2021
Pedagogies of Hope and Care in Middle East Studies

In 2020-21, I helped launch a new interdisciplinary Middle East Studies (MES) minor program at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The pandemic and the exigencies of online teaching pushed me, however, to reconceptualize the program and more specifically its core course – MES300 The Middle East: Critical Questions & Debates – in myriad ways. This presentation will discuss one welcome shift: the grounding of the course in critical pedagogy and specifically its centering on a critical pedagogy of hope. While the latter was articulated as key to the program before the pandemic, it has taken on greater significance during a time when a) students and faculty are more disconnected than ever before, and b) the future appears uncertain and even frightening.

I consequently reformulated MES300 from a more traditional course that overviewed problematic questions/debates in Middle East Studies into one driven by faculty-student collaboration and active student contributions to the development of the field. Moreover, I openly prefaced the course with a critical pedagogy of hope, embedding it in the syllabus, learning outcomes and weekly sessions. Against ‘neutrality,’ the course adopts a social justice approach to MES, encouraging students to consider their social responsibilities and cultivating belief in the possibility of better worlds (academic and public) that might be realized though collective contemplation and struggle. Students critically deconstruct the ‘Middle East’ and Middle East Studies but move beyond criticism to collaboratively re-envision the field and what it might/should accomplish at UBC and beyond. The course thus aims for radical re-imaginings of the Middle East, Middle East Studies, and our individual and collective purpose at the university.

In sum, I believe that a critical pedagogy of hope can help refashion and reinvigorate Middle East Studies in the classroom, but also holds potential to transform students’ understanding of their place in academia and the wider world. Collective striving against despair and towards transformative action (even, or perhaps especially, in the face of great odds) holds the potential to create community, empathy and hope, thereby ameliorating students’ and instructors’ emotional wellbeing in a time of distress and disconnect. In that sense, a critical pedagogy of hope might facilitate a pedagogy of care that both permeates and extends beyond the (virtual) classroom.