Go back

Faculty member returns from Saudi Arabia with first-hand observations

Following a 10-day stay in Saudi Arabia, an Austin Peay State University faculty member is ready to share his observations of how the country has been thrown into the modern world.

Dr. Albert Randall, professor of philosophy and religion, was part of a delegation that visited with Saudi Arabias education, business and government leaders March 9-19.
Following a 10-day stay in Saudi Arabia, an Austin Peay State University faculty member is ready to share his observations of how the country has been thrown into the modern world.

Dr. Albert Randall, professor of philosophy and religion, was part of a delegation that visited with Saudi Arabia's education, business and government leaders March 9-19.

He will comment on his trip in a talk, titled “Saudi Arabia: An Ancient Land and People Catapulted into the Modern World,” 7-8:30 p.m., Monday, April 24 in Morgan University Center, Room 303. The talk, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by APSU's Institute for Global Security Studies.

Randall also will speak noon-1 p.m., Wednesday, April 19 at Hopkinsville (Ky.) Community College. The public is invited.

“Saudi Arabia is an ancient land whose people have been thrown into the modern world,” Randall said. “The purpose of my talk is to explore the many challenges that face Saudi Arabia as well as share the many changes that are occurring in the Middle East regarding democratic movements, education, women and religion.”

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations invited Randall to be a member of a delegation — which included university teachers, businessmen and Embassy officials — to participate in a study visit in Saudi Arabia. For the third time since 1993, Randall has traveled abroad as part of a delegation with the National Council.

In Saudi Arabia, Randall and the delegation spent time in four primary areas: the Najd, home of the capital of Riyadh; the Eastern Province, which is the site of Saudi Aramco, the world's largest integrated oil company; the Rub' Al-Ahali, the world's largest desert; and Jedda, which is 30 miles from Mecca and a center of commerce often called the bride of the Red Sea.

Specifically, the delegation visited students and professors at both the all-male King Faud University and all-female Effat College, and met with members of the Majlis Ash Shura Council, an elected and appointed body that advises the king, as well as other councils and organizations.
The common theme discovered in the visits was how significant the cultural influence of the West was on Middle East countries, said Randall, whose presentations will focus on this concept.

“Saudi Arabia has big-name restaurants like McDonald's, Appleby's, Chuck E. Cheese and Chili's,” Randall said. “Their shopping malls are integrated, something that wasn't possible 15 years ago when men and women shopped in separate malls.”

One issue plaguing countries influenced by the modern world is a generation gap, which Randall said is a problem for Saudi Arabia whose population mostly is made up of people under the age of 18.

“That's going to be a challenge because you have to wonder whether there will be enough jobs for the younger people there,” Randall said.

Many Middle Eastern countries are moving toward democracy, another phenomenon of the cultural influence that Saudi Arabia is experiencing. At the all-female Effat College, Randall said the students felt it was just a matter of time before women are granted voting rights and other changes are noticed.

“They were very open about their thoughts on this and felt free to say what they wanted,” he said.

But, Randall cautioned, voting rights for women in the U.S. were solidified about 100 years ago. To expect Saudi Arabia or any other country to emulate historic developments in the U.S. within a short period of time is unrealistic, he said.

“You can't expect them to finalize in five decades what has taken us hundreds of years to achieve,” Randall said. “It's going to take time.”

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations was founded in 1983 as an American nonprofit, nongovernmental, educational organization whose mission is to improve American knowledge and understanding of the Arab world.

Randall, considered an expert on the cultures and religions of Middle Eastern countries, calls himself “a student of Islam.” His previous two trips sponsored by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations were in the summer of 1993 to Kuwait and Syria, and in 1995 to Yemen. Randall also has traveled to other countries, such as Jordan, through other sponsorships.

For more information about Randall's trip or to issue an invitation for him to speak to your organization, contact Randall by telephone at (931) 221-7479 or by e-mail at randalla@apsu.edu. -- Melony Leazer