Despite reactions from conservative clerics and politicians, the Education Ministry has consented to the introduction of an Islamic studies program at a Greek university.
The four-year course will be available at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, as of the new academic year starting in October, with the official title “Introduction to Muslim Studies.”
“We respect the academic autonomy of universities and we give our consent since there is no legal obstacle,” Alternate Education Minister Sia Anagnostopoulou, who rubber-stamped the directive nearly two years after it was issued in March 2014, told Kathimerini.
The general secretary for religious affairs, Giorgos Kalantzis, said the move will allow Greek tertiary institutions to catch up with their Western counterparts.
“Although as a country we have an indigenous Muslim minority and we are Europe’s border with the Muslim world, we still do not have an Islamic studies program,” Kalantzis told the newspaper.
The new course, which will initially accept 30-50 students, will be taught by professors from the Department of Theology as well as academics from the departments of political science, history, philology, law and architecture.
The development has met with opposition from conservative clerics including the archbishops of Kalavryta, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, as well as the neofascist Golden Dawn party and other far-right organizations.
Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki is expected to organize a rally against the new department on February 14.
In comments made to Kathimerini, a government source dismissed the reactions as “the last spasmodic moves of a system… that represents the introversion and conservatism of a section of contemporary Orthodoxy.”