ALLEGANY, N.Y. — Seeking to promote an understanding of Arab and Islamic cultures and an appreciation of both their historical and contemporary significance in the global community, St. Bonaventure University has established a Center for Arab and Islamic Studies.

The center’s areas of focus are scholarship, on- and off-campus instruction, and community outreach.

The Rev. Michael Calabria, O.F.M., Ph.D., who taught on the university faculty in the Department of Modern Languages from 2003 until 2012, is returning to St. Bonaventure to direct the center.

“The center is inspired by the historical encounter between Francis of Assisi and the Egyptian Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in 1219,” said Calabria, “and seeks to promote an understanding of Arab and Islamic cultures, an appreciation of both their historical and contemporary significance in the global community, and respectful relations between Muslim and Christian people.”

In recognition of the Franciscan Order’s enduring engagement with the Arab and Islamic world, its contribution to the study of Christian-Muslim relations, and its promotion of Christian-Muslim dialogue, the new Center for Arab and Islamic Studies is being established under the aegis of the Franciscan Institute at the University. 

“The Franciscan Institute takes a new and bold step with the creation of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies. St. Francis of Assisi’s experience of brotherhood with the Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt becomes the model for mutual dialogue today,” said the Rev. David B. Couturier, O.F.M. Cap., director of the Franciscan Institute.

Beginning with fall 2015, the center’s on-campus instruction will consist of undergraduate courses in Arab and Islamic Studies in a variety of disciplines, including art history, history, international relations, language and literature, political science, theology and women’s studies. An 18-credit minor in Arab and Islamic Studies is already offered at St. Bonaventure. These offerings will be completely revised and expanded.

A Summer Institute will provide traditional and non-traditional students with an opportunity outside the regular academic year to engage in studies for several weeks on campus in conjunction with the summer programs offered by the Franciscan Institute and the Chautauqua Institution.

It is also anticipated that the center will offer day and weekend programs at a variety of venues, particularly those within the Catholic and Franciscan community on topics in Arab and Islamic Studies. The center will also foster strong and productive ties with the area’s Muslim community.

“We are delighted that the Rev. Michael is returning to St. Bonaventure to lead this renewed initiative,” said University President Sr. Margaret Carney, O.S.F. “The center will create important connections throughout the region and the world to advance the global citizenship agenda.”

Most recently, Calabria has been a chaplain-in-residence at Georgetown University while pursuing his doctorate in Islamic Studies with the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. 

During his time at St. Bonaventure, Calabria started a program in Arab and Islamic Studies and taught courses in several disciplines, including Arabic, art history, history, theology and women’s studies.

In addition to his doctorate in Islamic Studies, Calabria holds a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern Studies from John Hopkins University, a master’s degree in Egyptology from Brown University, a master of library science degree from Columbia University, and a master of divinity degree and master of theology from Washington Theological Union.

Since its advent in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century, Islam has become a truly global faith, Calabria said.

“With an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims around the world (about 23 percent of the world’s population), Islam is the world’s second-largest religious tradition after Christianity,” he said. “In the contemporary religious, political and economic global environment, it is clear that knowledge of and dialogue with the Muslim world is a necessity for global stability and peace.”

For more information about the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, visit