Geography is not just memorizing the state capitals before a quiz in sixth grade. Geography is the study of a space in any given time. The boundaries of this space is determined by the observer - it could be global in scope, or it could range from national, subnational, local, all the way to the individual, whose very nature-nurture could constitute a geographic entity. But let's skip the philosophy for now ;-)
This spacial study could be divided into many sub-fields. When people discuss foreign policy, they are discussing the politics and economics of a place, as well as other neighboring geographic entities. Mountains and jungles are components of a space's physical geography. When we want to study the groups of people within a country or region, we turn to human geography, where people's ethnicity, faith, professions are the focus.
Closer Look: Afghanistan
First and foremost, where does Afghanistan belong? Is it part of South Asia or Central Asia? Or, as many perceive, the Middle East? Grouping countries into regions is not a simple task nor should it be taken lightly. Different regions conjure different perceptions. For many, the Middle East resonates with war and Central Asia is just still ex-Soviet Stans, neglecting the diversity within the regions. Unfortunately for Afghanistan, it's very tricky to place it squarely anywhere - a fact that bogged the many futile occupiers the country saw over the centuries, from the British to the Soviets and recently the Americans. The different sub-fields of geography must be fully understood to grasp the very 'idea' of Afghanistan. Ethnically speaking, it's a mosaic of many languages, tribes, and faiths. The majority Pashtun, although of Iranic roots, gravitate more towards the Indic cultures, and there is a huge population of Pakistani Pashtuns and historical pockets throughout South Asia. The other groups of Afghanistan, largely the Dari and Turkic-speakers, gravitate towards a Central Asian ethos. It's a landlocked, mountainous country with a diverse set of neighbors. The more political borders a country has, the more involved it gets. Seeing it solely as a fundamentalist Muslim nation and lumping it into the Middle East largely ignores the varied and more prominent aspects of this multicultural crossroads of Asia.
It could be as simple as including meat on a menu, but the importance of understanding cultures plays a crucial role in today's globalized society. I combine my multicultural background, academic training, and diverse personal interests - coupled with analytical, data-driven observations - to give prospective clients a thorough understanding of the South Asian - Middle Eastern cultural continuum.
In Western societies, the topic of religion is often eschewed or made into a battle between liberals and conservatives. In reality, most people around the world go about their day seamlessly intertwining their faith, never extracting the spiritual elements from the mundane tasks of life. Whether it's a Muslim student driving hundreds of miles to taste a halal burger or a diplomat attempting to woo his host country, religion is a key component of people's lives. A better understanding of the world's faith systems is crucial to living in an increasingly interconnected global society.
Closer Look: Minority Religions
We often speak of endangered animals and languages, but seldom do we speak of religions being in danger of extinction. However, recent political unrest brought forth a religion very few have ever heard of - Yazidism. It is a syncretic religion found in the mountains of Syria and Iraq, blending in elements of ancient Mesopotamian religions with the surrounding Abrahamic faiths. Yazidis are one of many minority religions that gets overshadowed by their more numerous neighbors. The Zoroastrians, Mandaens, Druze - and even sects within larger religions like the Assyrian Christians or Cochin Jews - are dissappearing rapidly due to both internal and external factors.
"It's the economy, stupid".
Okay, I'll admit it - I don't quite remember the presidential election campaign of 1992, but the campaign slogan showed the importance of economics on a national agenda. Economics is not just confined to Wall Street or the ivory towers of researchers; we are individually subjected to the forces of economics every time we buy a loaf of bread. Nor should economics be thought of as abstract models with single variables - the study of economics should ideally take into consideration the various facets of an individual, community, or a nation. Afterall, economics greatly influences and contributes to our cultures, not to mention our health and well-being. My own economics studies were mostly concentrated on international development, particularly of South Asia. Though the region has its fair share of socioeconomics issues, South Asian economies are in fact growing rapidly and diversifying. It is an exciting time to be eating curry.
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