Central Asia, with its westward extension into Southwest Asia, is a vast region rich in history, natural resources, and geopolitical importance. The birthplace of many of the ancient world's religions and empires, it was the home to remarkable centers of learning, and the arena of devastating conflicts. Despite its fascinating past and strategic importance, the region is one of the most neglected in the curricula of American colleges and universities. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the increasing American military involvement in the area, the region's significant strategic importance has reemerged.
The University of Montana has emerged as a national and international leader in recognizing the significance of Central & Southwest Asia, and translating that awareness into a major academic program. The program builds on significant faculty experience and expertise in the region, and includes scholars from numerous UM departments. The center has also organized summer study tours for K-12 teachers to Central Asia, and also hosts annual conferences that bring leading scholars, diplomats, analysts and journalists to the campus.
The University of Montana offers an undergraduate Minor and an undergraduate Major in Central and Southwest Asian Studies. Arabic, Chinese, and Russian language instruction are also offered. Faculty exchanges have been organized with universities in Russia, China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Palestine, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Morocco.
Public outreach and furthering the university’s educational mission are key to the work of the Central and Southwest Asian Studies Center. Students and scholars from Asia, Europe, and across the United States have come to UM to study the history, politics, languages, and cultures of these increasingly critical regions. Diplomats, artists, writers, poets, and politicians from around the world participate in numerous Center activities, including its annual conference, held every April and now in its fourteenth year. Brown Bag lunch presentations and evening lectures are offered to the UM and Missoula communities throughout the year. Away from campus, Center faculty and scholars have lectured to and given training sessions for a variety of groups and professional organizations, including educators, attorneys, judges, government officials in numerous countries of the region, staff of the U. S. State Department, and members of the U.S. military, including Special Forces and Navy Seals. On September 8, Dr. Mehrdad Kia, the director of UM’s Central and Southwest Asian Studies Center traveled to Helena to present a two-hour lecture on conflicts and critical issues in Central and Southwest Asia to Montana Governor Steve Bullock, his Cabinet, members of his personal staff, and officers of the Montana Army National Guard.