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Morocco: Multiculturalism and Human Rights (SIT)


Todd Heidt

Director, Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401-4999



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This SIT program examines human rights, religion, politics, and cultural diversity in Morocco contextualized within the broader region and beyond. Y will consider Morocco's cultural, historical and ecological diversity and the role Morocco has played—historically and to the present day—in relation to Africa and Europe. A particular focus on gender issues includes looking at women's roles in contemporary Moroccan society and Moroccan feminism.

Major topics of study include:

  • The interplay between authoritarianism and human rights
  • Tensions between secular and religious approaches to individual freedoms
  • Liberal reforms (proposed and enacted) in areas such as ethnicity, women's rights, and state violence

Moroccan society is a fascinating melting pot of different cultures: Berber, Arab, Jewish, Muslim, African and European. Historically, the Moroccan empire was a major force in world politics; the legendary cities of Fez, Marrakech and Essaouira, along with their monuments, are a standing witness of the country's historical role in the world. Morocco is changing rapidly as a result of modernization and democratization efforts, yet its diverse cultures are deeply anchored in age-old traditions that emphasize community life, baraka (sacred blessing), fate, family and honor. You will examine these present-day characteristics, challenges and complexities in the context of the country's past and place in the broader region.

The program is hosted by the Center for Cross Cultural Learning (CCCL), located in a seventeenth-century neighborhood in the old medina of Rabat. Thematic course lectures and lunch take place in the main CCCL building. Language classes are held at the Marassa Center, CCCL's annex, an impressive early twentieth-century riad located one block outside the walls of the medina. You will study Modern Standard Arabic; varying levels of ability are accommodated in the program, from beginner to advanced. You may also have opportunities to study French, and some ability in French is likely to be of value to you as you complete your research project.

Excursions are a part of the program, varying slightly each semester. The program visits the Middle Atlas, the Southern Palm Tree Valleys, the Erg and Hmada Deserts, the High Atlas, and Marrakech, as well as universities and NGOs throughout Morocco. On these excursions, you'll explore Morocco's history, indigenous industries, impacts of tourism, development issues, environmental problems, civil society questions, cultural diversity, and interactions between Berbers, Jews, and Arabs. The southern excursion covers a wide area: you will experience the cedar forest of the MIddle Atlas, the gorges of the High Atlas Mountains, and the desert. The excursion is accompanied by lectures and field study exercises on topics such as biodiversity and forest conservation plans, sustainability challenges, nomadic history and culture, and mulitculturalism. You will engage with local communities like the Ait Khabbash tribe and learn about their cultures, riding a camel across the sand dunes of Merzouga, watch the sunrise from the Erg Chebbi's highest dune, and hear a performance by a Gnawa band in the heart of the desert. Northern Morocco highlights the country's cultural diversity as you visit Ouezzane, spiritual capital of the north, Chefchaouen, Fnideq, and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

The homestay is an integral part of the SIT experience. You will spend twelve weeks with a host family in Rabat, here you can practice language skills and get a sense of Moroccan culture. Most host families live in the city's historic medina and are a short walking distance from the Center for Cross Cultural Learning and the downtown area. You will also stay for six days with a host family at Ait Ouahi, a village of about 400 in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Most homes here have electricity and Turkish toilets. The village is near Oulmes, a small city known for its mineral water, livestock and fruit. Most of the residents of Ait Ouahi speak Tamazight (Berber), and a few speak Moroccan arabic. You will share in your family's daily activities: farming, taking care of livestock, and cooking. You may also hike and receive a lesson in the local dance, Ahaidous. You will also contribute to community development at the village's elementary school, planting trees or teaching English, and you will participate in group discussions with residents.

You will spend four weeks, including one week of intensive preparation, near the end of the semester on an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research. The ISP is conducted in Rabat or another approved location in Morocco. Possible topics include:

  • International and local human rights NGOS in Morocco
  • Inheritance rights and ijtihad
  • The culture of volunteering in Muslim countries
  • Literature and storytelling in the Moroccan Jewish community
  • Code-switching and multilingualism in Moroccan music
  • The Arab Spring and its aftermath
  • Multilingualism and political pluralism
  • The politics of expression among women in rural Morocco
  • Islam in daily life in Morocco
  • Sufi poetry and constructions of the human
  • Moroccan music and architecture

Learn more about the SIT Morocco: Multiculturalism and Human Rights program and other SIT programs.

Credits: 4.5 for the fall or spring semester

Advisor: Professor Katie Stewart

Click here for more information about the application process, program selection, and more!

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Printed on Monday, May 23, 2022