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Kaldjian honored for work to facilitate better understanding of Islam and Muslims

RELEASED: Dec. 7, 2011

Kaldjian

Dr. Paul Kaldjian

EAU CLAIRE — A faculty member in the geography and anthropology department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire received the 2011 Building Bridges Award in the education category from the Islamic Resource Group.

Dr. Paul Kaldjian, associate professor of geography, received the award for his efforts in facilitating a better understanding of Islam and Muslims among college students. The Building Bridges Award acknowledges outstanding bridge builders from among educators, community leaders, interfaith activists, media representatives and healthcare providers.

Kaldjian was recognized at the Islamic Resource Group's 10th anniversary celebration and Building Bridges Awards Banquet Nov. 12 in Minneapolis, Minn.

Zafar Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Resource Group, said Kaldjian received the award for his efforts in helping students understand Islam and Muslims in a much deeper way than just in theory.

"He worked with the IRG for the past several years in visits to the Twin Cities mosques where the students get a chance to see how a Friday noon prayer is held in a mosque," Siddiqui said of Kaldjian's efforts. "They also get to observe the diversity in the mosques and interact with people. This greatly enriches a student's experience from real world interactions. Dr. Kaldjian facilitates these opportunities for his students, which helps them understand the faith and practice of a fourth of humanity."

Kaldjian, who is of Armenian heritage, has been to the Middle East numerous times since childhood. His father's stories and attitude about Turkey, Syria and Lebanon were about peace-making and celebrating the great things about the Middle East and its people and places, Kaldjian said. In graduate school, he studied Turkish and spent a year in Istanbul doing field work.

"Since then, I have continued doing research in Turkey, can now speak Turkish with my father and have my own relationships with people and places in Turkey," Kaldjian said. "I feel at home in the Middle East."

For four years, students from Kaldjian's "Geography of the Middle East" class have attended the Friday prayers, Kaldjian said, noting that the Islamic Resource Group has hosted the visits to the mosque.

"I would not have expected my annual visit with students to Friday prayers to have had so much meaning to the Islamic community in the Twin Cities," said Kaldjian.

Kaldjian's research and teaching interests have focused on such topics as human geography, the geography of food, Turkish agriculture, urban food security, and the Middle East, North Africa and Istanbul's green cities and market gardens. He travels regularly to Turkey, often presenting information on the relationships he has built with its people and places. Kaldjian recently turned those relationships into an international immersion program for UW-Eau Claire students.

With support from UW-Eau Claire's Blugold Commitment, Kaldjian's faculty-led immersion experience brought 10 students to Turkey last summer. He hopes to continue the program in the summer of 2012.

"These are good developments as we work toward increasing understanding and healthy relationships," Kaldjian said. "As we get to know people and places of cultures different from ours, we learn, we are enriched, we grow, and, if one feels the need to be utilitarian about it, we open up new opportunities for ourselves."

Kaldjian received his doctorate in 2000 from the University of Arizona in Tucson. His dissertation — "Urban Food Security and Contemporary Istanbul: Gardens, Bazaars and the Countryside" — was based on a year of fieldwork in Turkey.

The Islamic Resource Group is a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational organization based in Minneapolis. IRG's mission is to build bridges of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims through educational programs. More information about IRG can be found online.

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JT/JB/DW

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