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New course teaches Islam as news.

Communications Professor Geri Zeldes has established a new course at Michigan State University that teaches students how to cope with the complexities of reporting on Islam in a post-9/11 world.

This semester, students in Zeldes's "Reporting on Islam" course conducted their own research, analyzed news reports, spoke with Muslims living in America as well as abroad, and wrote articles about how Muslim students feel about university life in America.

When the Iran Times asked Zeldes how she came up with the idea for the course, she said, "The course found me. Directors from [MSU's] International Center tapped journalism faculty for their interest in teaching the course and I raised my hand. A grant from the Social Science Research Council funded the course and the website of the same focus."

After her students' reports were completed, Zeldes had them upload the stories and photos they took to, a service of United Press International (UPI) for university students so that they could share their stories with a wider audience than the 14 registered students in the course.

Seven of the students had at least one of their articles published through UPIU, and student Andrew Norman's article on Islamic punk music was featured in blogs in The San Francisco Sentinel and The Wall Street Journal.

Zeldes told the Iran Times her class taught students about the role and influence political and economic tensions had on journalism coverage of Islam and Muslims. "My students in general, learned about the tensions and influences--the geopolitics, economics, and individual and other characteristics--that shape journalism, and journalism coverage as it relates to Islam and Muslim communities and peoples.

"On another level, my students delighted in my use of Skype and social networks to shrink the globe. For example, we Skyped Anthony Shadid, then of The Washington Post and now, The New York Times. He engaged students in conversation that some found profound. During our talk, he experienced a brownout in his house, located in Iraq's Red Zone. Another example of my use of Skype was teleconferencing with journalism master's students in Jamia Malia Islamia located in New Delhi, India."

Despite the novelty and initial uncomfortable nature of the course, students said the class was well worthwhile.

"[The course] definitely made me uncomfortable at times, but honestly, that is how I know it was worthwhile," student Dan Redford told UPI. "It helped me experience a part of the world and this country that I never had before."

Student Brian J. Bowe said that using web tools such as Skype to talk to people in other countries was a stimulating aspect of the class and said it helped to "shrink the world.... Those classroom interactions with people in places like Iraq, Iran and India enriched the experience for me.

"One of the problems in media portrayals of Islam is that we're frequently talking about Muslims, but not to Muslims. Using technology, we were able to bridge cultures and have very profound dialogues," Bowe said.

While students talked to people around the globe, they also spoke with Muslim Americans to get their perspectives on the issue. Student Jennifer Hoewe, said, "I found our visit to [the Islamic Center of East Lansing] highly beneficial. I would have been timid about going there alone. Since I was joined by my classmates and welcomed by those who attended the mosque, I felt comfortable enough to go again by myself later in the semester as part of an article I wrote."

"Reporting on Islam" is a pilot course offered jointly through Michigan State's School of Journalism and its Muslim Studies program. It was started with a grant from the Social Science Research Council, a national non-profit group. In addition, the course is part of the Islam, Muslims, and Journalism Education program, a project on the Internet funded by the same grant that has a goal to generate accurate and balanced reporting.

As the final project covered by the grant, a conference including lectures, a panel discussion and a Muslim comedian is scheduled for February 2010 at Michigan State.

Rami Khouri, the director of the Issam Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at The American University of Beirut and the editor-at-large of Beirut's Daily Star newspaper, will be the keynote speaker at the "Islam and the Media" conference.

The conference will focus on Western media coverage of Islam and Muslims. Information gathered from the class and a new website--IMAJE, or Islam, Muslims and Journalism Education--is also expected to be presented and critiqued.

Zeldes told UPI that similar courses have been taught at other American universities, including DePaul University instructor Marda Dunsky's "Reporting the Arab and Muslim World" course.

The communications professor told the Iran Times she hopes the course will become a permanent class. "I hope the course will be offered again. After I analyze student feedback, I plan to discuss offering the course again during the 2010-2011 academic year."
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Title Annotation:Religion and the world: Faith
Author:Nasri, Grace
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Jan 8, 2010
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