Afghanistan selected as theme for Cameron University’s upcoming Academic Festival

The country of Afghanistan has been selected as the theme for Cameron University’s eighth academic festival. “Afghanistan: Its Complexities and Relevance” will present numerous opportunities for the public to gain an understanding of this Central Asian country during the 2011-2012 academic year. The academic festival is a dynamic, privately funded, year-long symposium that explores a topic worthy of in-depth study. Guest speakers, campus-wide activities, seminars, special events and cross-curricular emphasis in the classroom are strategically planned to support the study of the festival’s topic. Many events are open to the public. The festival, sponsored primarily by the McCasland Foundation, is dedicated to the memory of Dr. George Edward Stanley, a member of the Cameron faculty for 41 years.

graphic of festival logo“Cameron’s academic festival will be a year-long study of Afghanistan, its position on the world stage, and the countless aspects of Afghan culture and politics that make the country such a compelling nation,” says Cameron President Cindy Ross. “The academic festival will offer both scholarly and entertaining activities that will appeal to Cameron students, faculty and staff as well as the community. As part of our focus, we are privileged to present experts who will share unique perspectives on Afghanistan.” 

Headlining the festival are nationally acclaimed speakers who are recognized authorities on Afghanistan. Best-selling author Dr. Khaled Hosseini, Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll, former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, journalist/foreign policy analyst/author Robin Wright, and General (Ret.) Stanley A. McChrystal will share their expertise and perspectives in a series of individual speaking engagements which are open to the public at no charge. Due to expected interest, tickets are required for each speaking engagement. For information on acquiring tickets, visit Book signings will follow most public lectures.

The festival kicks off on August 30 with a lecture by Dr. Khaled Hosseini, author of “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” Both novels provide an insightful view of Afghan culture.

photo of Khaled HosseiniBorn in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1965, Dr. Hosseini is the son of a former diplomat whose position in the Afghan Foreign Ministry relocated his family to Paris in 1976. The family’s 1980 planned return to Kabul was thwarted by a communist coup and an invasion by the Soviet Union. Granted political asylum, the family settled in California. Dr. Hosseini, who received his medical degree from the University of California at San Diego, practiced internal medicine from 1996-2004. During this time, he wrote “The Kite Runner,” an international bestseller and prizewinning novel that has been published in 48 countries. “The Kite Runner” chronicles the friendship between two boys growing up in Kabul. Their intertwined lives, and their fates, reflect the eventual tragedy of the world around them.  In 2007, Hosseini published his second novel, “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” The novel is set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last 30 years and has been published in 40 countries.

Tickets for Dr. Hosseini’s lecture will be available in early August.

photo of Steve CollBest-selling author Steve Coll, president of New America Foundation and a contributor to The New Yorker, will take the speaker’s dais on September 29. Coll, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, won his second Pulitzer Prize for “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.” Based on scrupulous research and firsthand accounts by key government, intelligence and military personnel both foreign and American, “Ghost Wars” details the secret history of the CIA’s role in Afghanistan, the rise of the Taliban, the emergence of Osama Bin Laden and more.

Coll’s 2008 book, “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century,” documents the story of the Bin Laden family’s rise to power and privilege, revealing new information to show how American influences changed the family and how one member’s rebellion changed America.

Photo of Chuck HagelFormer U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel will be featured on October 26. Hagel is a Distinguished Professor of National Governance at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service as well as a Distinguished Centennial Visiting Professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s College of Public Affairs and Community Service. He is the author of “America: Our Next Chapter” in which he examines foreign policy problems, including China’s growing economy, India and Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, and Iran’s aggressive political, ideological and nuclear stances. During his two terms in the U.S. Senate, Hagel was a member of the Committee for Foreign Relations and the Select Committee on Intelligence, among other appointments.

His work in the private sector includes president and chief executive officer of the Private Sector Council in Washington, deputy director and chief operating officer of the 1990 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations (G-7 Summit) and president and CEO of the World United Service Organizations.

Hagel continues to be an active public servant through his participation in civic, educational, and charitable organizations such as the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, the German Marshall Fund’s Trade and Poverty Forum, the Eisenhower World Affairs Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations.

photo of Robin wrightJournalist, foreign policy analyst and author Robin Wright will be the first speaker of the Spring 2012 semester on January 19, 2012. Wright is currently a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace as well as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Wright has reported from more than 140 countries on six continents for leading news outlets including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Sunday Times of London and CBS News. She has also written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, TIME, The International Herald Tribune, and many others.

Wright is the editor of and contributor to the December 2010 book, “The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and U.S. Policy,” a compendium that provides top-level briefings by 50 seasoned experts on Iran. Wright is currently working on her seventh book, “Rock The Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World.”

photo of Stanley McChrystalThe fifth speaker of the Festival will be General (Ret.) Stanley A. McChrystal, who will address the Cameron community on March 15, 2012.   A 1976 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., McChrystal served 34 years in the United States Army, retiring in 2010 having achieved the rank of four-star general.

McChrystal is widely praised for creating a revolution in warfare that fused intelligence and operations. He is the former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan and the former leader of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees the military’s most sensitive forces. McChrystal’s leadership of JSOC is credited with the December 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein and the June 2006 location and killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. McChrystal, a former Green Beret, is known for his candor, innovative leadership, and going the distance.

The son and grandson of Army officers, McChrystal began training at the Special Forces School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, two years after his graduation from West Point. He was commissioned as an infantry officer, and spent much of his career commanding special operations and airborne infantry units. During the Persian Gulf War, McChrystal served in a Joint Special Operations Task Force and later commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment. He completed year-long fellowships at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1997 and in 2000 at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In 2002, he was appointed chief of staff of military operations in Afghanistan. Two years later, McChrystal was selected to deliver nationally televised Pentagon briefings about military operations in Iraq. From 2003 to 2008, he commanded JSOC and was responsible for leading the nation’s deployed military counter-terrorism efforts around the globe, assuming command of all international forces in Afghanistan in June 2009. President Obama’s order for an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan was based on McChrystal’s assessment of the war.

McChrystal retired from the military in 2010. He now serves on the board of directors for JetBlue Airways, Navistar, and the Yellow Ribbon Fund. In 2011, he returned to public service after the Obama administration invited him to oversee Joining Forces, a high-profile initiative that aims to support military families. McChrystal will lead its three-member advisory board.

Many of Cameron’s faculty will include classroom instruction that incorporates course material relevant to Afghanistan in fall and spring classes. As a precursor to the academic festival, Dr. Vivian Thomlinson, Director of the Honors Program and Professor of English, included a section about Afghanistan in her Great Ideas II Honors seminar last spring, leading her students through a study of the history and culture of Afghanistan and examining its history of trade and other social interactions with the rest of the world. The class also considered how Islam has helped to shape Afghanistan and how familial, clan and tribal affiliations affect the culture even today.

“I want my students to know where Afghanistan is on the world map,” says Thomlinson. “More importantly, I want my students to know about Afghanistan’s history, culture, religion and people.”

During the Fall 2011 semester, Thomlinson will feature Afghanistan in her Survey of World Literature through the Renaissance class. “I will pay special attention to the early religions and cultures that affected what is now Afghanistan,” says Thomlinson. “This will include having students read the literary works of the Mesopotamian region including the cuneiform epic of ‘Gilgamesh,’ studying  stories in the Jewish ‘Torah,’  examining the impact of Persian Zoroasterian thought and religion, and the influence of Hindu and Buddhism thought from India. We will also read many suras from the Koran, works written by the Afghanistani mystic Sufi poet Rumi, and travel narratives of the Islamic traveler/adventure writer Ibn Battuta.”

During the Spring 2012 semester, the Cameron University Department of Art will present guest lecturer Dr. Fredrick Hiebert, archeologist, explorer, and curator of National Geographic’s exhibition “Afghanistan:  Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul,” which is currently being displayed at museums around the world. The collection contains some of the most remarkable archaeological finds in all of Central Asia and includes pieces that are not only artistically splendid but also reveal a diverse and thriving ancient culture. In addition to a visual lecture, Dr. Hiebert will preview a film about the collection, “Lost Treasures of Afghanistan.”

“Afghanistan: Its Complexities and Relevance”  is dedicated to the memory of Dr. George Edward Stanley, Professor of African and Middle-Eastern Languages and Linguistics, distinguished member of the Cameron faculty for 41 years, and life-long learner. A member of the steering committee for the Academic Festival, Dr. Stanley’s expertise was invaluable in the initial planning efforts for the year-long event. 

“The purpose of the Academic Festival—to delve deep into study and exploration of a topic of interest and intrigue—is just the type of adventure Dr. Stanley enjoyed,” says President Ross.

The McCasland Foundation of Duncan is the primary sponsor of “Afghanistan: Its Complexities and Relevance.” Over the years, support for the Academic Festivals has come from the McCasland/Amquest Bank Endowed Chair, established by the McCasland Foundation in 1989. Additional funding for this year’s festival is provided by the Cameron University Foundation and through Cameron University Lectures and Concerts Series.

The McCasland Foundation was established in 1950 and is committed to supporting educational opportunities in Southwest Oklahoma. Cameron University has been fortunate to receive a number of contributions from the Foundation that have enabled Cameron to provide additional educational services, resources and opportunities to its students and faculty.

The McCasland Foundation has provided matching funds for more than 50 endowed lectureships and has funded almost 200 scholarships. The Foundation has been a significant donor to Cameron’s McMahon Centennial Complex, the Center for Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurial Studies, and the Sciences Complex.

“Afghanistan: Its Complexities and Relevance” continues Cameron’s popular series of Academic Festivals. Cameron’s first Academic Festival, “Year of the Renaissance,” took place in 1991-92. Themes of other Academic Festivals included cultural diversity; science and technology; bridging the millennium; globalization and the human experience; and health and wellness.

Additional events for “Afghanistan: Its Complexities and Relevance” will be announced in the coming months. Visit for updated information.


July 14, 2011