Campus News

UGA to begin state’s first major in Arabic this spring semester

Algebra, alchemy, zenith, nadir: four words with something in common: they originate in the rich locutions of Arabic language. Arabic, spoken by more than 200 million people, has grown in popularity as Westerners have more reason to know and understand the Middle East and North Africa.

That’s why UGA for the first time is adding a major in the Arabic language beginning spring semester 2009. Interest has been so strong for the past few years that new professors and instructors have been added just to keep up with students wanting to study the tongue, with its ancient history of literary works, religion, philosophy and mathematics.

“Arabic at UGA has had a slow but steady climb,” said Alan Godlas, an associate professor of religion and one of the moving forces behind the resurgence of the language here. He teaches courses on Islam, Quranic and Hadith Studies, Arabic and Persian, and Sufism. “I was originally hired to teach Quranic Arabic and Islamic Studies, but after a few years then-dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Wyatt Anderson asked if we could start teaching modern Arabic as well. He was very supportive.”

Since Godlas was trained in Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Literary Arabic at the University of California at Berkeley, he was ready to put a program in place.

The department of religion instituted a minor in Arabic, which is both an Asian and an African language, nearly a decade ago. Even then, interest was rising in the language and its history, and since so many people speak it, there was a reason for majors in international studies, business and other areas to gain facility in the language.

Interest among students was so strong that the program was able to hire another professor, Kenneth Honerkamp, a specialist in Arabic, Islamic texts, Islamic Law and North African Sufism, who had been director of the Arabic Language Institute in Fes, Morocco. Haider Bhuiyan was added as a lecturer and was fortunate to get federally funded Fulbright foreign language teaching assistants in Arabic.

The Arabic major consists of 21 upper-division semester hours in Arabic together with 15 upper-division major electives drawn from Arabic, history, religion or international relations, as well as courses in a relevant foreign language.

Since many students have been taking successive courses in Arabic during their time at UGA, the first graduates in the new major will receive their diplomas in May.

Right now, there are about 100 students in first-year Arabic, 60 in their second year and 20 in the third year-180 students learning a language that wasn’t even taught at UGA until recent years.

UGA is the only university in Georgia that offers a major in Arabic, said Godlas, who also runs one of the most-visited Web sites on Islam and Islamic studies in the world (