Spotlight on new faculty — an interview with Stephanie Honchell

Interview by Kaidi Ilves

Fairleigh Dickinson University welcomes Stephanie Honchell, an expert on the history of Islam, as an assistant professor of world history to the School of the Humanities in University College: Arts * Sciences * Professional Studies .
stephanie honchell

FDU: What brought you to FDU?

Stephanie Honchell: I wanted to teach at a liberal arts school, and have the opportunity to lecture a variety of classes. The University’s emphasis on global education is appealing, as is the location, which I’m familiar with from my undergraduate days at New York University. Combine all these aspects and FDU just feels like the perfect fit.

FDU: Tell us about your new position...

SH: I’m a specialist in Islamic history with a Ph.D. from the Ohio State University. I have some expertise in world and African history as well. FDU’s School of the Humanities brought me on board as an assistant professor of world history for the Metropolitan Campus.

FDU: How did you become interested in this field?

SH: As far as I can remember, I have always loved history. Throughout my studies, I was quite fortunate to have wonderful professors who really motivated and inspired me to delve deeper in this field. During my undergraduate studies, I signed up for a class called “Mongol World Empire” and fell in love with Central Asia. This eventually led me to study the Islamic world, and the rest, as they say, is history.

FDU: Tell us a little more about your research…

SH: My focus is on the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I'm planning on publishing parts of my Ph.D. dissertation, which analyzed alcohol culture and drinking practices in Central and South Asia. My future work will shift focus to scientific culture, specifically the intellectual exchanges that took place between astronomers in fifteenth-century Central Asia, South Asia, and the Ottoman Empire.

FDU: Any comments on what’s going on with the world today, especially concerning the Islamic nations?

SH: The thing I stress most to my students is that neither Islam nor Muslims are monolithic. There's so much diversity of interpretation and practice that it is counterproductive to make generalizations. Turkey is drastically different from Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan is different from Iran, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Egypt, Niger, Indonesia, etc. Generalizing about the Islamic world as a whole gets us nowhere. It is absolutely imperative to remember that nothing happens in a vacuum; we can't understand the world today unless we confront the past. Without appreciating these things, it's impossible to make sense of what's going on today.

FDU: What is something that you would like to contribute to FDU?

SH: I want my love of teaching to emanate through the lectures I give, and inspire students to keep learning throughout their lives, not just in the classroom. As I mentioned before, I find the University’s emphasis on global education very appealing, and hope that during my tenure here, I too can add to this legacy.

FDU: What is something you hope your students will take away from your classes?

SH: The ability to think more critically about the world, appreciation for the difference between knowledge and information, and most of all excitement for learning about other cultures, times, and places. Lofty goals, but I have a lot of faith in students.

FDU: What is one piece of advice you can give your new students?

SH: Be an active participant in your own life. It sounds silly, but I see a lot of people passively meandering through life. Be thoughtful, be passionate, be excited.