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The Center for Middle East Understanding will debut on campus with the film Encounter Point at 7pm on October 14th in Wanamaker. photo // Lauren Powers

Cooperative efforts made by Principia and the Euphrates Institute have enabled the development of the new Euphrates Center for Middle East Understanding (CMU). At Principia, students are taught to solve conflicts and problems through spiritual means. The Center hopes to create an environment in which students can ponder global issues with this same mindset.

As an academic institution, Principia offers CMU the opportunity to use research and activities to raise awareness about Islam and the Middle East. Six students have been selected as “CMU Fellows,” and they make up a core group that will conduct research and organize different activities on and off campus in order to promote this initiative. Students will work independently and do their own research with the help of Euphrates Institute staff. Activities they are planning include the screening of a documentary film called Encounter Point, which is about the everyday heroes of the non-violent peace movement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on Thursday of Week Five.  The Center is also conducting outreach to St. Louis area university programs, such as Washington University and St. Louis University, clubs, and interfaith groups, in order to expand its reach, visibility, and access to ongoing activities in the area. Janessa Gans Wilder, who founded the Euphrates Institute in 2006, explains that part of the purpose of the Institute is to raise awareness about what is going on in the Middle East. Wilder said, “As Americans, we tend to see things from only one perspective, and we don’t necessarily understand the diversity and complexity of the region… Muslims comprise a fifth of the world’s population, and yet we often respond as if they are all terrorists.”

Part of the purpose of the Institute is to promote the power of non-violence. Vincent Herr, a German CMU Fellow who has just completed a year of military service shared this insight: “I realized that as a soldier I cannot change things. I learned that the best thing you can do to help the world is to be spiritually minded.” This kind of idea is at the heart of the Institute. Wilder also points out that the Center brings a “healing-oriented approach to Middle East issues.”  The focus is not the conflict, but understanding the avenues through which progress might be attained. All the projects will be solution-oriented.

Those who are not CMU Fellows will be able to participate in, and attend the activities as well. The Center hopes students will take advantage of the screening of the award-winning, heart-warming documentary Encounter Point set in the midst of a conflict that seems so devoid of hope. To stay involved and current, follow CMU on twitter (cmuprin), or read the Fellow-maintained blog ( Progress on projects, events, and volunteer opportunities will be posted regularly. The CMU office, temporarily located in Perry Lounge, is also open to all students for research and discussions.

Emma Lowenberg, another CMU Fellow, has been interested in Middle Eastern issues ever since she took History of the Middle East last winter quarter. She said, “The most exciting thing [about being a CMU Fellow] is getting to be in the first group of students, the ones who will shape the Center.” For her, one of the fundamental steps in solving conflicts is overcoming racism and religious intolerance. Lowenberg said it is important to be able to “reach across different cultures, [and realize that] it doesn’t matter what religious beliefs you have, or what color your skin is.”

Janessa Wilder and Hillary Austin listen to CMU fellows brainstorm projects for the Fall quarter. photo // Graham Thatcher

The CMU is off to a great start and is looking forward to making a difference in the thoughts of Principia community members. According to Lowenberg, “Spending five minutes reading the news everyday will bring you closer to the world.” Stay tuned to see how you can help make a difference!

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