Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional and Language Studies - 1
By Sugra Bibi
University of Pennsylvania


The South Asia Studies Department at the University of Pennsylvania, initially established in 1948, is the first full-fledged department specializing in the study of South Asia in the United States. Following the development of the Department, the South Asia Center was added in the 1950s when the US Department of Education awarded the university a Title VI National Resource Center grant to promote and advance the study of South Asia by graduate and undergraduate students, as well as in K-12 schools and among the public. Penn’s exceptional South Asia library collection dates back nearly two hundred years.

The Department’s faculty and cross-departmental appointments cover South Asian languages and cultures: both ancient and modern. The last decade has seen a general increase in South Asia and Pakistan related courses which have been taught by leading academics from across the university’s departments including Anthropology, History of Art, English and Religious Studies. The courses reflect the topical and polemic nature of research in the field. The diverse range of course offerings include Anthropology of the Modern World, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan; Afghanistan and Pakistan: Islamism, Terrorism and Globalization; Contemporary South Asian Writing in English; History of Islamic Civilization; Islamic Ethics; Islam and Modernity; Sufism; Religion and Visual Culture; and Islamic Metaphysics.

An exciting development this summer was the Center’s renewed Title VI award, which enables further enhancement of Afghanistan and Pakistan related expertise at Penn. A full time lecturer specializing in the history and culture of Afghanistan and Pakistan is now in place, and allowing students to develop a considered understanding of the area, region and countries. In addition, Penn and the South Asia Center are sponsoring several new courses, such as Islam and the Cultural Politics of Nation: Perspectives from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; Transnational Islam in Indian Ocean History; Religion in the Urdu Public Sphere, 1850-2011: advanced primary source readings; Global War on Terror in Historical Perspective; and Silk Road to South Asia: A Window on World History. Only a handful of US universities currently offer Afghanistan-related courses, putting Penn’s curriculum and content-rich courses on the leading edge of scholarship in this field.

In parallel with the content courses, the department is offering Punjabi, Persian, Pashto and Urdu language courses for beginners through to advanced level. The languages are taught in the milieu of the culture and offer students much more than just an introduction to a new language. Our experienced instructors possess in-country teaching and US teaching experience. Pashto courses are enhanced with the presence of Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) fellows. Our current fellow, a native Pashto speake,r has teaching experience from Peshawar City University. There is a growing appetite for the courses among students from across the university, from Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations to Art History.

As a university, Penn trains future scholars in the field by encouraging students to engage with current and emerging areas of research and discourse. As part of the South Asia Studies Department colloquium series, scholars have presented work on Wahabis and the Raj, which looked at how the British demarked the ‘Durand Line’, (the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan) and the mechanisms used to define and police the frontier.

In parallel with its educational mission among Penn students, the Center also has a mandate to encourage and support the study and knowledge of South Asia in schools, colleges, and among the public in the Philadelphia region. During July, the Center ran a summer language STARTALK program including a teacher training Institute for Urdu and Hindi, and two High School summer language programs for Urdu and Hindi. In total fifty-five students benefited from the three programs. Subsequent to the summer program, the Center continues to build links with area schools and teachers to support expansion of an international curriculum and to engage students to increase their awareness of the South Asian subcontinent and its languages and cultures.

A major component of the Center’s external facing work involves partnering with a range of organizations to support public events and seminars. Afghanistan and Pakistan have been in the forefront of media attention for some time, and this media focus combined with the changing world, global and political, and cultural developments has shaped and given expression to communities, artists and writers works. As part of its community outreach program, the Center co-sponsors a growing number of Afghanistan and Pakistan related arts events intended to engage, inform and initiate further study in the region.

Granta: How to Talk about Pakistan

During September and October, Granta Magazine, which highlights new writing, is focusing its October issue entirely on Pakistan. In conjunction, a series of poetry readings, literary events and discussion groups are being held in several cities internationally. Coordinated with the overseas series of events, Philadelphia’s Twelve Gates Gallery also hosted a panel discussion to discuss how we represent Pakistan in art, literature and beyond. The panel members included Adam Elick, journalist and novelist, Imad Rahman, lecturer from Cleveland State University, Hari Kunzru journalist and novelist, and James Caron and Rubab Qureshi, both lecturers from the University of Pennsylvania.

Pakistan Flood Relief Awareness Banquet

This fundraiser, sponsored by several Penn student groups many events, was held to help raise funds for the flood victims of Pakistan. The donations collected at the banquet will be doubled by UNICEF and will go towards providing essential medicines, clean drinking water, vaccines and the reconstruction of schools in Pakistan.

Penn Museum Scholars Lecture Series: Hindu Architecture of Ancient Pakistan

Professor Michael W. Meister, Department of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania highlightedhis scholarly research on architecture and Pakistan on October 20.

Sitar Magic with Shahid Parvez

An evening performance with Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan and Subhajyoti Guha co-sponsored by the Sangeet Society was arranged on October 22. Here, one of the finest sitar players paired with a talented tabla player.

Infusing Global Perspectives into Classrooms - Saturday, November 13

This is a workshop for teachers, administrators and National Resource Centers to create and strengthen global education in Delaware Valley classrooms. It will help to identify how Penn can support Global Studies teachers to broaden the course curriculums to include South Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

More details about all these events are available on

Women’s Campaign International

Marjorie Margolies, a Faculty member of Penn’ Fels Institute of Government runs a course on Women’s Leaders and Emerging Democracies. She is also the founding member of Women’s Campaign International (WCI), a Philadelphia based, non-profit organization that possesses an international development mandate and works in emerging democracies and post-conflict regions. The organization works to advance opportunities for women to actively participate in public advocacy and political processes, and, through these efforts, help develop sustainable peace and democracy in Afghanistan.

Since 2006, WCI has worked in Afghanistani provinces with participants from Wardak, Bamiyan and Nangahar; Faryab and Mazar-e- Sharif; and Paktia, Paktika and Khost. WCI conduct training workshops for Provincial Councilors on empowerment techniques, developing self-awareness and understanding of gender equality issues, and also leadership, communication and conflict resolution skills. Earlier this year, WCI trained 25 female trainers in Kabul to help women in Afghanistan to prepare for the 2010 elections. These 25 trainers will in turn, train a total of 625 women throughout the countries provinces. For more about the group information please visit


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.