A small group of leadership studies students are spending the semester exploring the ways in which politics, religion, leadership and public life are intertwined.

The students, who are enrolled in Leadership and Religious Values, taught by Dr. Douglas Hicks, have watched the protests in the Middle East with interest and are currently reading a book on Islam.

They recently had the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Sallama Shaker, who has held a number of positions in the Egyptian government and was the first woman to serve as deputy foreign minister for the country. Shaker sat in on the class to discuss Islam, leadership, global politics and the changes in the Middle East, and to answer questions.

“Her talk both illustrated and challenged my assumptions about the role of Islam in society,” said Lucas Hakkenberg, ’12. “Her deep knowledge of both Islam and Egypt provided great context for the events happening in the Middle East.”

According to Hicks, it allowed the students to see strong connections between the academic analyses they have been doing on topics such as religious freedom, diversity and cross-cultural challenges, and the hard decisions that leaders face in practice.

“Dr. Shaker shared her perspectives as a thoughtful practitioner in the international arena and in a changing Egypt,” Hicks said. “The students took away ideas that we’ll be addressing for the rest of the semester.”

She discussed the role of education and why it is important to look past stereotypes. She also shared memories of growing up in Egypt and encouraged the students to always face their fears.

“As a group of young scholars and future leaders, you can really build future bridges between the East and West,” said Shaker, who is currently a visiting professor of Islamic studies and Middle East studies at Yale Divinity School. “Leadership requires engaging people, facing challenges, empowering, changing perspectives and developing a human culture of love, tolerance and religious freedom.”