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Photo of Nader Hashemi Nader Hashemi

Asst. Professor and Director, Center for Middle East Studies
Josef Korbel School of International Studies

In this edition of our e-newsletter, we're pleased to profile one of our most respected Current Issues instructors. Prof. Nader Hashemi's "mini-course," Middle East Update, which begins January 29, provides a candid and up-to-date discussion and examination of the changing politics of the Middle East and North Africa, with particular focus on U.S. policy toward the region during President Obama's second term. The director of DU's Center for Middle East Studies, Nader is the local news media's go-to-expert on topics relating to the Middle East and his media presence also includes "The PBS NewsHour," Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

Please read our short Q&A with Nader to learn more about his expertise and interests, including why you just may see him on stage at Swallow Hill someday (if not in the swimming pool)!

Nader, tell us a bit about yourself, such as where you grew up and how you landed in Denver.

I was born and raised in Canada (greater Toronto area) where my parents were first generation immigrants from the Middle East. My life as both a child and teenager was deeply shaped by political events in the Middle East and the larger Islamic world, principally the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict. Furthermore, in contrast with the secular Canadian environment where I was living, religion and politics were constant topics of conversation in our home and in the broader ethno-religious community of which our family was a part of. When it came to choosing a major course of study at university, this background led me to the study of political science (although in retrospect I should have majored in history and philosophy). I was particularly interested in studying and understanding the turbulent politics of the non-Western developing societies with a focus on the themes of democracy and human rights along with the relationship and tension between religion and democracy.

I completed my B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in Canada and chose to write a doctoral dissertation on the theoretical and practical relationship between religion, secularism and democracy, with a focus on the politics of the Islamic world. After obtaining my doctorate from the University of Toronto I was awarded an Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University and then a Visiting Professorship at UCLA before coming to the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at DU where I was hired to fill a void in Middle East Studies.

What concerns you most right now about what's happening in the Middle East and/or the world, and why do you think it's important to teach Americans about what's happening so far away?

The Middle East is currently experiencing one of its most important, uncertain and transformative moments of political change. I’m referring to what is widely known in the West as the “Arab Spring.” Longstanding dictators have been toppled, others cling to power, and fierce battles are raging (primarily in Syria) while the rest of the world watches these developments with a combination of optimism, concern and bewilderment. These are important developments to understand and follow given the longstanding U.S. engagement with the region since World War II. I’m hoping that my lectures can give some historical and political context to these unfolding developments. Two themes will be emphasized: the unfolding relationship between religion and politics, and what policies should the U.S. be pursuing in response to the Arab Spring? Notwithstanding the common view here in the U.S. that the prospects for democracy look bleak, I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of the Middle East and in my lectures I will explain why.

Please share with us any professional achievements or related news.

This year I was appointed as the new Director of the Center for Middle East Studies. We are currently in the process of being formed but the vision of this center is to raise the level and quality of discussion, debate and scholarship on the Middle East here at the University of Denver. We plan to publish occasional papers, a journal, books, and organize a regular lecture series and an annual conference. Our first conference, on the conflict in Syria, will take place on January 11 and the official launch of our center will take place on February 26. In between we have three other lectures planned. Until our official website is set up, you can follow our events and activities, on the internet via our Facebook page.

Why do you teach for the Enrichment Program, and why do you think lifelong learning is important?

I enjoy interacting with the broader Denver community. Most of my time is spent with students and other academics, but I’m also keen to hear and learn from the “average American citizen.” Teaching for the Enrichment Program gives me a better sense of what the public mood is with respect to topics that I specialize in. Furthermore, the official mission of our university is that we are a private university that is dedicated to contributing to the “public good.” I hope that in my own small way I am making such a contribution.

What's something we might be surprised to know about you?

I've recently taken up swimming and now I have become quite obsessed about the sport. If I don't swim on a regular basis I begin to feel agitated and upset. My love for swimming has now shaped the way I travel and vacation. The hotels I stay at are carefully selected for their availability of a decent-sized swimming pool (preferably at least 25 meters long). I also play the guitar and I have aspirations to join a folk-rock band. If I don't make it in academia, this is my fallback position.

Photo of Kim Evans Kim Evans

"I am looking forward to the "Rite Stuff" offered in May...the sessions are certain to be fantastic with the collaboration between Marc Shulgold and Scott O'Neil as instructors. What a rare opportunity to have two highly talented and well informed experts offer a class open to all and for a such a great price." For the last four years, Kim has enrolled in at least one Enrichment course each term. Though her preferences primarily fall under one subject area, that's just fine by us. Kim's enthusiasm for music, and her devotion to one particular instructor, makes her one of our most loyal and consistent students. We asked Kim to share her Enrichment "story" with us, and we couldn't be more thrilled with her answers.

How did you discover the program?

Little did we know that after touring the University of Denver campus with one of our sons a few years ago, we would each find a special place as part of the DU community. Our son, Andrew, finished his undergraduate degree and just completed his first semester at the Sturm College of Law, my husband serves as a judge for the law school's student moot court and assists with the DU Martial Arts Club Sports, and I discovered the Enrichment Program after attending a concert at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts.

Always one to pick up brochures and papers, I was immediately intrigued with the class listings that explore musical history listed in the Enrichment Program catalog. Although reluctant to fit another commitment into my schedule, the relatively brief time required to truly enjoy the classes and the impressive credentials of the instructors practically guaranteed a good experience. As a musician, I thought it would be terrific to attend the Colorado Symphony Orchestra concerts included with the classes. The opportunity to actually meet the renowned professional performers either touring or seated with the CSO during the concerts is also quite a rare and special opportunity offered by the instructor. Members of the class are welcome to invite their spouse or a friend to join them for the concert evening, and it is always interesting to hear fresh insights and opinions about the musical program.

Director's note: Not all music courses include the option of meeting the performers. Guests attending performances with students must pay for a ticket.

What motivates you to be a lifelong learner?

As we age...well, if we don't use it, we lose it. Better to keep our minds, bodies, and spirits truly alive for the long run! This is it–we need to enjoy life right now.

Why do you enjoy taking Enrichment Program courses in particular?

Honestly, I signed on for that first Enrichment class a few years ago to test the waters of pushing beyond my daily schedule.

Since moving to Denver from Chicago several years ago, I have been busy raising our three sons who are currently working their way through college, grad, and law school, and helping my husband with his law firm when needed. I also enjoy climbing the remarkable Colorado 14er mountains, scuba diving with my family, and serving as an adaptive ski instructor for the National Sports Center for the Disabled. This requires a lot of training and preparation. When there are a few quiet moments, I look forward to playing my beautiful piano. With a full schedule already in place, the time for meeting other classical music fans in the area had not been on the horizon.

The minute I walked into class (on time!) and met Marc Schugold’s wit and wisdom, I was hooked on the Enrichment Program. There were so many students with a spectrum of musical interests, ranging from very basic to incredibly advanced, that I felt immediately comfortable joining the discussion. The course, “The Russians Are Coming” (Fall 2009), was right on target—we had the impressive opportunity to meet and visit with concert piano superstar Olga Kern during the Colorado Symphony’s Rachmaninoff Festival. After enjoying each of the weekly class meetings, I still remember thinking how the instructor’s guidance and finely tuned ear for the classics enhanced my understanding of the masterful performance. Exploring the history of the music and how to listen made a remarkable difference in the concert experience.

Director’s note: This term, longtime Enrichment favorite Marc Shulgold teaches Classical Gas: The Glorious Time of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven and co-teaches (with Colorado Symphony resident conductor, Scott O’Neil) The “Rite” Stuff: Shaking up the Music Word.

How has the Enrichment Program played a part in developing your interests and/or generating new ones?

After completing my first Enrichment Program music course, I immediately signed on for the next class and brought home all I had learned to my own piano with a resolution to devote time to preparing a couple of pieces I always wanted to play. Over the years, through listening to the course instructor and performers we have met, I have discovered it is crucial to at least attempt to master all of the movements of classical manuscripts in order to grasp a complete understanding of what the composer is trying to reveal —the whole story. Can't just pack it in during the middle of Beethoven's storms or sink in the middle of Grieg's flowing river!

Beyond the music, I did try one of the cuisine/wine classes. It was fantastic and I still serve the delicious recipes (grilled tuna cakes with sauces). However, I definitely advise students to bring along a designated driver for the way home—or hit the Starbucks down the street, which is open late!

Since you've taken so many courses over the years, is there something you wish we'd do differently or a class we could offer in the future?

This took some thought since the Enrichment Program offerings are already extensive and cover so many practical and intriguing subject areas. But...you asked.

After the fantastic Musique Classique of France course and concert (Fall 2012), I began thinking there may be an interest and enough support to inquire if our instructor(s) would lead a musical history tour of one or more noteworthy cities, including our own.

Director’s note: I asked Kim to further explain what a “musical history tour” might look like and she definitely dreams big! From a weekend tour of Denver’s musical venues to “Music in the Mountains” to an instructor-led excursion to the great musical cities of Europe...all exceptional ideas and “mostly” doable. Sound interesting to you?

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