Academics and Research

Professor’s work sheds light on Islam, past and present

Andrea Stanton is often sought after to provide expert commentary on the Syrian crisis and other contemporary Middle Eastern issues. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Andrea Stanton is often sought after to provide expert commentary on the Syrian crisis and other contemporary Middle Eastern issues. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

While most Americans catch news updates of crisis in the Middle East sporadically, Andrea Stanton has her finger on the pulse of the region. The assistant professor of Islamic studies regularly has a browser page opened to Al Jazeera’s live stream. Her interest in the region runs from its history to its media and religious identity.

Stanton has a PhD in Middle Eastern history from Columbia University. While pursuing her degree, she spent summers in Damascus, Syria, studying Arabic and developing a fondness for the people and the country.

“The refugee crisis today is almost impossible for anyone who knows Syria and Syrians to believe. Syria reminded me a lot of my childhood — different religion and culture, yes, but the same focus on family, family values, a kind of general but non-extreme conservatism and a general contentment with life,” says Stanton, who grew up in Iowa. “Today, these same people struggle to survive as refugees and see their future slipping away day by day.

“I don’t see any hope for displaced and refugee Syrians in the short term, but having spent so much time in the country and having met so many strong, bright, committed Syrians, I believe that this country will have a brighter future than we see today,” she says.

Stanton is often sought after to provide expert commentary on the Syrian crisis and other contemporary Middle Eastern issues. She has been interviewed on the evolving role of women in Islamist militant groups, including for a January 2015 piece by CNN.

Early in her teaching career, when she worked at Sarah Lawrence College and the American University of Beirut, Stanton realized that her interests and research involved questions of religious identity and practice, and how those had evolved over time.

“History for me is a crucial lens through which to examine contemporary questions, like what role people in Muslim-majority countries think Islam or religion in general should play in public life,” Stanton says. “I believe that bringing history into Islamic studies helps us be able to better address assumptions that people today, Muslim and non-Muslim, have about Islam.”

Stanton joined the University of Denver’s religious studies department in 2010. Her research interests include media and politics. Her first book, “This Is Jerusalem Calling: State Radio in Mandate Palestine,” was published in 2013.

Stanton was on a mini-sabbatical in winter quarter, working on a project about the hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

“I’m looking at the impact that broadcast media — radio, television, film and Internet — have had since the mid-1900s on Muslims’ experience of the hajj, and how that is intersecting with the advances in transportation and the growth of the Muslim population worldwide. Together, this puts tremendous pressures on the number of pilgrims who can go on hajj each year,” she says.

Stanton enjoys sharing her expertise with the community and offers an opportunity for area educators, at the K-12 as well as college level, to develop knowledge of Islam, past and present, in an annual, one-day workshop. Participants learn practical techniques for teaching about Islam, as well as prepare for consulting or non-profit work with Muslim communities in the United States and abroad.

Last year, she and a colleague from George Mason University were awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to host a three-week summer institute at the University of Denver for middle and high school teachers titled “Teaching Connected Histories of the Mediterranean.” The institute, to be held in July, will offer teachers the chance to refresh their knowledge and consider new ways to teach about the Mediterranean, past and present, including art history, religion, commerce and society, as well as political histories.

“I’m personally grateful to have been awarded such a big grant, but also delighted because to me the NEH summer institutes fit so well with DU’s mission, to be a great private university dedicated to the public good,” Stanton says. “Educating the next generation is 100 percent about contributing to the public good, and I’m honored to be hosting the first NEH summer institute held at our university.”

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