Skip to main content

New school bridges language, cultures

January 23, 2008

The study of other languages and cultures has an ever-increasing importance in today’s changing world and becomes the focal point of ASU’s new School of International Letters and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. A 10:30 a.m. ceremony Jan. 28 on the lawn in front of Old Main, is one of several activities planned this spring to mark the official launch of the new school.

“Everything we do will be grounded in languages,” says Robert Joe Cutter, a leading scholar of premodern Chinese literature and cultural history and the founding director of the school. “Yet, unlike most universities, where languages are housed in their own departments, the new school was developed in response to changing educational needs and to prepare our students for a changing world.”

Built on the strengths of the former Department of Languages and Literatures, the new school has a distinct global perspective; it reaches across traditional academic boundaries to create innovative alliances with other departments, schools and centers.

“We are transforming the study of language, literature and culture at Arizona State University by offering students a rich variety of transdisciplinary educational experiences across languages and cultures,” says Cutter. “Our existence is dictated by the nature of today’s world where knowledge knows no boundaries.”

The intercultural and interdisciplinary nature of the new school reflects ASU President Michael Crow’s vision for a New American University to prepare students for a world transformed by a polyglot flow of information, people and culture.

The school’s new structure also foreshadowed recommendations in the May 2007 report from the Modern Language Association: “Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World.”

The MLA report addresses the traditional model of teaching language and literature: “The two-tiered configuration has outlived its usefulness and needs to evolve.… Replacing the two-tiered language-literature structure with a broader and more coherent curriculum in which language, culture, and literature are taught as a continuous whole, supported by alliances with other departments and expressed through interdisciplinary courses, will reinvigorate language departments as valuable academic units central to the humanities and to the missions of institutions of higher learning.”

The innovative design of the new School of International Letters and Cultures embodies the report’s recommendations, according to Deborah Losse, dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“With its structure of five faculties and eight transdisciplinary curricular and research working groups of students and faculty, the School of International Letters and Cultures brings together students and faculty from other disciplines who are able to work in primary texts in the individual language together with literary and cultural experts in that language to explore complex socio-cultural issues across language groups,” Losse says.

A roundtable discussion with a member of the Modern Language Association Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages and faculty members from the School of International Letters and Cultures is one of the events scheduled this spring to mark the launch of the new school. The discussion will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 8 in Murdock Hall, Room 101, on the Tempe campus.

Other events include a lecture by Michelangelo Picone, professor of Italian literature at the University of Zurich, titled “Oriental Frame – Stories in Medieval Romance Narrative.” Picone is an internationally known scholar in medieval studies across French, Italian and Spanish literatures. The lecture will be presented at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at the University Club on ASU’s Tempe campus. Seating is limited. Call (480) 965-6383 for details.

Also planned is a two-day symposium titled “Traditional Chinese Poetry and Poetics.” It is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 5 p.m. on Feb. 29 and March 1 at the University Club on ASU’s Tempe campus. ASU’s Center for Asian Research is co-hosting the event.

All events are free and open to the public. Additional information is online at or (480) 965-6383.