I taught Middle East Studies (Arabic) 495, the senior seminar in Middle East studies, during BYU’s Winter 2012 academic term, which concluded at the end of April. This is essentially a senior thesis class.
Here are the titles of the senior theses in Middle East studies that I supervised during the most recent iteration of the class. I cite them in order to give some idea of the range of interests among BYU majors in Middle East Studies (Arabic):
“The Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) of Palestine: A Critical Introduction”
“Environmental Protection in the Middle East”
“The Doctrines of Jihad and Just War: A Comparative Analysis”
“Arab and Non-Arab Muslim Women and Their Interactions with the Health Care System in Utah”
“Correcting Condemnation: A Defense of British Negotiators During World War I”
“Redeeming the Devil: Yezidism’s Tawuse Melek and His Sufi Origins”
“Islam and the Chechen Fight for Freedom”
“The Zionism in Us All”
“The Cyclical Pattern of Violence: The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict”
The distribution is roughly similar to prior classes (which have sometimes been much larger). All but two of the nine papers concentrate on topics from within the past century. Six of the nine are firmly contemporary; a seventh (on “Jihad and Just War”) certainly has powerful and direct contemporary relevance.
My own interests are very much premodern. But, unsurprisingly, the large majority of BYU’s Middle East Studies (Arabic) majors are most interested in contemporary political and socio-economic issues. All of them have lived in Arabic-speaking countries. (It’s a program requirement, and BYU regularly offers an intensive program of Arabic study abroad — typically in Egypt or Jordan — to meet that obligation.) Most of them hope to go on to careers in law, diplomacy, business, humanitarian service, or the military.