The many countries of Asia and the Near East are among the oldest civilizations in the world. The study of the languages and cultures of these nations gives students access to some of the richest and most varied traditions of thought, belief, and behavior to be found in the world. A large percentage of the vast, essentially non-Christian segment of the world’s population resides in these two zones: Asia—with its diverse heritage of belief in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and other systems of thought—continues to retain its “exotic” image for most Westerners, even though many nations in the region are at the forefront of contemporary politics and economics. The Near East, birthplace of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, remains a little-understood, often stereotyped area of considerable economic, strategic, and religious importance today.
The languages of these regions are themselves generally difficult, with complex writing systems that require diligent study. But exposure to these languages and the cultures they express will enable students to look at the world from new perspectives and deepen their understanding of peoples whose history and practices are widely divergent from their own.
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