April 25, 2018

From Beirut to Boston: Shalem’s First Druze Professor Brings Inspiring Story and Impeccable Credentials to the Classroom

Dr. Yusri Hazran.

When asked why Lebanon features so prominently in his research, Dr. Yusri Hazran, the newest addition to Shalem’s Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Department, answers without hesitation. “It’s a tiny country, but nonetheless manages to contain within it all of the diversity of the entire Middle East. It’s rich in culture and history and knowledge, even as it struggles with serious challenges and crises. The contradictions,” he concludes, “are as confounding as they are compelling.”

Yet for Hazran, Lebanon is not just a matter for objective analysis. It’s also profoundly personal: Born in the village of Yarka in the Western Galilee, he spent his formative years in the 1980s crossing the border into Lebanon freely; for several years in his late teens, he even lived at Khalwat al-Bayada, the central theological school of the Druze. Although he eventually decided on an academic, and not a spiritual, path, Hazran retained his passionate interest for the intense, riven country to Israel’s north, even as his mounting list of degrees and fellowships took him farther and farther away, first to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, and then to Boston for a Fulbright Scholarship at Harvard and postdoctoral study at Brandeis.

Today, back in his home country, Dr. Hazran is regarded as a leading scholar of the relations between the Druze community in Israel and that of Lebanon in particular, and on the political history of the Fertile Crescent in general. His range of expertise on the Middle East is reflected in the courses he teaches at Shalem, including “Israel and the Arab World,” “Studies in the Arab Media,” and “Shi’ism.” As for how the experience teaching at Shalem differs from that of the larger research institutions at which he has worked, Hazran is unequivocally enthusiastic.

“I really enjoy the fact that the emphasis at Shalem is not on the retaining of facts and dates. I encourage my students to take a skeptical view of history, and search for deeper, more nuanced understandings of events,” he says. Sometimes, he admits to asking questions in class to which even he does not have the answer, in order to glean the students’ fresh perspectives. “Not only does that approach ensure a lively discussion, but it also provides me with a constant reminder to check my assumptions and reevaluate the common wisdom in my field. It’s a very satisfying give-and-take.”

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