William & Mary

"Intro to Islam" the Start of Enduring Fascination for Chrystie Swiney '02

In June 2007 Chrystie Flournoy Swiney '02 will obtain her master's degree in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford University, completing a thesis on the Palestinian group Hamas. In the fall she begins a Ph.D. program in the Government Department at Georgetown University. Throughout her academic journey (which has included Harvard Law School and passing the Virginia bar exam) she has been drawn to study of the Middle East.

"In law school I studied International, Islamic and Human Rights Law. I also started studying Arabic," Chrystie said. "I realized early on that Islam/Middle Eastern studies were my true academic passions."

"I entered W&M determined to be a Physics major. But after one semester in Professor Sonn's 'Introduction to Islam' course - which I took only to fulfill a general requirement - I was sold! I saw the importance of questioning preconceived notions, of appreciating nuance, of opening myself to new ideas and ways of thinking." In the end, Chrystie double-majored in Psychology and Religious Studies.

The September 11 terrorist incidents in New York City took place during Chrystie's undergraduate senior year. What began as an academic passion (studying Islam in its modern manifestations) metamorphosed for her into a highly relevant field of study.

While at Oxford, Chrystie immersed herself in the politics, history, culture, and languages of the modern Middle East. In the summer of 2006, she and her husband lived in Amman, Jordan. Chrystie studied Arabic at the University of Jordan and conducted fieldwork for her thesis. They also traveled to Israel and the West Bank - an "incredibly eye-opening experience."

"Yes, yes," she admitted. "I'm addicted to school. I blame William and Mary!"

"I simply cannot speak highly enough of the professors in the Religious Studies Department. I always felt like I, as a student, was put first, and that teaching was their absolute first priority. In every way they went above and beyond the call of duty."

Chrystie recalls especially Professor Raphael's Thursday morning breakfasts at the Williamsburg Inn, and Professor Morreal's lectures on eccentric topics. "And I'll never forget when Professor Sonn cried in class when sharing with us a personal story about her experiences in the Middle East. So many wonderful memories."

While at W&M, Chrystie was a soprano member of the a cappella group Intonations. She volunteered as a court advocate for Avalon: A Center for Women & Children, and every Friday morning for two years accompanied victims of domestic violence to court appearances. She also served as a "shelter sister" at Avalon's shelter, where victims and their children found temporary refuge.

"My time at William and Mary has served me in exceptional ways, professionally and personally. I really encourage current students to consider a Religious Studies major. And to be kind to their professors - thank them, get to know them, take them up on opportunities to meet outside of class, acknowledge their hard work and devotion. And go to class!"