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Doctoral Candidate Awarded Boren Fellowship To Study Abroad in Oman
May 17, 2024

Heath Dowers, PhD (cand.), MA ’21, a doctoral candidate in the Institute of Philosophic Studies (IPS), was recently awarded a Boren Fellowship. Boren Fellows receive funding to study foreign languages and cultures abroad in regions critical to American interests. Dowers will study Arabic in Oman as he works on his doctoral dissertation, a study of the political philosophy of the medieval thinker al-Farabi.

What made you select this location?

There are a couple of factors that influenced my decision to select Oman as my target country. For starters, all my prior adventures in the Middle East had led me to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria. All of these countries have their peculiarities that I enjoy, but traveling to the peninsula has remained one of my greatest desires, which probably springs from my fascination with Lawrence of Arabia. Situated at the southeastern end of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman fits the bill.

Another factor contributing to my choice is the culture of the Omani people. From all that I have read and heard, they still adhere to traditional Arab mores. The most admirable of them is Arab hospitality towards outsiders. But I must admit their cuisine attracts me as well.

What is your dissertation about?

It is my hope to explore the methods al-Farabi, a 10th-century Islamic philosopher, uses to address the societal divisions obstructing the ascendancy of philosophy within the city. Clues about this problem surface in his political writings, but these are not the only writings worth considering. Al-Farabi’s extant logical works and his commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics may also help guide my research and lead to further questions and answers that will allow me to craft my dissertation. The more I read al-Farabi’s philosophy, the more I’ve come to realize that he’s not as easy to nail down as some scholarship has led me to believe. His somewhat paradoxical style of writing demands more attentiveness from the reader, for he drops subtle hints, bread crumbs if you will, throughout his texts, signaling that things are not always what they appear. Sure, he’s a bit complicated, but this does not stop me from finding much pleasure in reading him, as well as his teachers, Plato and Aristotle. I’m only at the beginning stages of my research, so I’m sure many new things will come to light as I attempt to plumb the depths of this aspect of al-Farabi’s writings.

How do you plan to spend your time in Oman?

I will spend the weekdays immersed in my Arabic studies, which will require five hours of daily courses and homework. Outside of the classroom, I intend to conduct research for my dissertation at the numerous local libraries accessible to me and practice my Arabic with locals. I’m sure I will go on some excursions on the weekends and dine at some delightful Omani restaurants.

What drew you to UD?

My journey to the University of Dallas is an interesting one. Prior to my admission, I taught Latin at a charter school in Arizona and had a fellow teacher who shared intriguing insights about certain books he was reading at the time. Turns out that the majority of these books belonged to the Great Books tradition, a tradition I knew a few things about since I received a master’s degree in classics. I began to read works outside of Greek and Roman literature and realized that my education needed shoring up in areas where I was lacking, but where to turn I knew not. I soon found myself researching liberal arts universities that emphasized the Great Books during my lunch breaks at work and somehow stumbled upon the University of Dallas. Having reviewed the contents of the Braniff Graduate School, I felt certain that I should pursue my graduate studies at this center of learning. Well, here I am.

Though I enjoy the literature of the Great Books curriculum offered here, there are other aspects of the university that I admire. For one, the small class sizes make the learning environment more engaging for students. And then there are the professors. I remember sitting in my first class on campus, which happened to be Aristotle’s Politics, taught by Dr. Richard Dougherty, and I was throttled by the sheer intellectual horsepower he used in explaining key details associated with the text. While sitting there, I mused about whether or not I would experience the same in my other courses. I soon learned that other professors, for the most part, employed the same prowess in their classroom presentations. These are just a few things I love about UD.

Could you name any other favorite professors or courses you’ve had at UD?

There are a few professors who rank highly in my mind: Dr. Joshua Parens, Dr. Richard Dougherty, Dr. Matthew Berry and Dr. Daniel Burns. Each has his unique style of teaching that I enjoy. I admire the patience each has with students and the feedback they so generously provide on writing assignments. Oftentimes, I think back to the courses I had with each and cherish the wisdom imparted. My prior experience at other universities rarely, if ever, have left me as awestruck as I have been from the amount of “ah-ha” moments I’ve encountered at UD. Many of those moments occurred in many of the courses I’ve taken, but the most came about during a few key classes, which, of course, are my favorites: Tocqueville, Leo Strauss, Thucydides, and Plato’s Laws.

What was the application process like for this award?

The essay section is the most important section of the application. In this section resides two essays: One requires the applicant to think about the geopolitical significance of the applicant’s target country, and the other has a few layers through which the applicant must demonstrate qualities and career goals that make him or her suitable for living overseas for an extended period. To prepare for the first essay, I recommend enrolling in Grand Strategy and Statesmanship and American Foreign Policy, both of which Dr. Matthew Berry offers in the Politics Department. The second essay perhaps demands more experiential preparation; that is, applicants should seek opportunities to travel abroad during their summers and participate in extracurricular activities related to international affairs. Crafting these essays should be handled with great care. If applicants run into trouble on this front, they need to contact Dr. Marisa Perez-Bernardo, the Boren campus representative.

What’s next after Oman?

I wish I could say that I know what’s next after this journey. I’m not quite sure. When I look that far ahead, I tend to become a bit overwhelmed by it all. So, I try to live just one day at a time. Do I have ambitions or career aspirations? Sure. I’d like to either become an analyst of some sort or teach at any of the military institutions in the United States.

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