Reflections on Studying at Cambridge (1)

Published July 28, 2015 by Diane Schuman

MPhil student Diane Schumann reflects on her academic year on the University of Cambridge MPhil in Middle Eastern Studies (Specialisation: Muslim-Jewish Relations).

Diane Schumann Diane Schumann

After a very busy and eventful year, I am currently finishing my year as an MPhil student at Cambridge University and the Woolf Institute.

Our seminars on historical and contemporary Muslim-Jewish Relations covered a really wide range of topics; we discussed convivencia in medieval Spain as well as the influences of Holocaust and Nakba on the identity of today's Muslim and Jewish communities. Next to the factual knowledge however, for me the different approaches and opinions of academics, teachers and classmates were just as important and the small size of our classes really supported open discussion. A third seminar on Genizah manuscripts did not only offer an interesting glimpse into Jewish life under Muslim rule in the Middle Ages, but definitely challenged my Arabic translation and grammar skills.

Although we were only three students, our personal and academic backgrounds could not have been more diverse. For me, this was a great opportunity to understand their perspectives and benefit from their knowledge, not just in class but often outside of it. I think it was a challenge for everyone to learn about and accept different points of view on matters that were sometimes highly emotional and personal.

Additionally to our classes, we attended several talks and seminars organised by the Woolf Institute. I especially remember a discussion after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, a talk on the connection of language and identity, and the meeting with the Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

Being part of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies offered further opportunities to meet other students, hear lectures and talks, and enabled me to attend a Hebrew class that I really enjoyed.

Our terms ended with a very welcome field trip to Paris, and, for me, a research trip to Tunisia. With the experience and knowledge I gained throughout the year, I am now in the final stages of writing up my dissertation that investigates influences on the identity on contemporary Jewish communities in Tunisia.

Diane Schumann is completing the MPhil in Middle Eastern Studies (Specialisation: Muslim-Jewish Relations). For further details of the degree programme, visit here. You can also read the blog post about the Paris trip here.

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