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Rob McFarland Named New European Studies Program Coordinator

Dr. Rob McFarland with his wife, Mary Ann, in Prague

With the conclusion of Heather Belnap’s term as faculty coordinator for the European Studies program, we are pleased to announce that the new coordinator will be Dr. Rob McFarland of the Department of German and Russian.

Dr. McFarland earned his BA in German and his MA in German Literature from Brigham Young University, after which he earned a PhD in German from the University of California, Berkeley. He has taught German at BYU since then; his specialties include cultural history and film. He’s also been involved with the Global Women’s Studies program at the Kennedy Center and has taught their introductory course as well as Gender and Cinema.

He has been involved with the European Studies program for around fifteen years, serving on the executive committee for the program and for the former Center for the Studies of Europe, as well as hosting or acting as a panelist for numerous Café Europa lectures.

A highlight of his involvement with the program was conducting the first European Studies study abroad program in 2022. “COVID played Old Harry with that program,” he says. “We were ready to do it in 2020, and 2021, and so we had to put it together three times. They kept changing the countries we could visit. But we got it done; we got it down to a science. And it was one of the best experiences of my life.” His wife, Mary Ann McFarland, teaches in Global Women’s Studies and helped with the program: “She was the indispensable co-director of our program,” he says. “It would not have worked without her.”

He’s also directed six study abroad programs for the German program: four to Vienna and two to Berlin. He sums up this involvement with German and European Studies simply: “Europe is something I’m passionate about.”

Dr. McFarland is looking forward to working with European Studies students in his new position. “I am excited about the quality of European Studies students,” he says. “Whenever I teach a European Studies seminar, I am always blown away at how urbane and thoughtful and well-prepared they are. The European Studies students are a cut above the usual BYU students. They are excellent at discussion and synthesis and finding out information; they’re interested in really interesting things.”

As he takes the reins of the program, he is interested in thinking about how they can make the experience more cross-disciplinary for the students. “We kind of have disciplinary chutes—for humanities people and social sciences people—that don’t cross over very much. In the past, I’ve been very invested in making sure that my social science students in European Studies have a humanities experience; I make them write and focus on text the way that they usually do on data. But I’d also like now to go backwards and make sure that our humanities people learn some of the data analysis skills that come from social sciences; I’d like to make sure that we do a good job of making them aware of how other people think.”

In his years as a professor, Dr. McFarland has seen how European Studies helps students build their future careers. “I have so many students who have jobs and careers they never imagined until they came into contact with Europe,” he says. “It’s as if they were in drawn in two dimensions, and having contact with Europe and seeing how the business world works there added a whole new dimension. It opens up an entirely new realm of possibilities: what’s possible, what’s out there.”

But studying other peoples and cultures prepares students for more than just their future careers, he says; it also helps with family life and Church assignments, especially leadership assignments. “All of these things, in a global economy, require global thinking,” he says. And global thinking is part of the European Studies program. “We see where things come from, how supply chains work, how cultural influence shapes everything that we are and do, and how to integrate the good and reject the bad. Intercultural competence is a really central thing in a modern global economy, if we want to keep up.”

And learning about other people is important spiritually as well as temporally, he says: “I believe really strongly that, as we’re told in the Doctrine and Covenants, knowing something about other peoples and languages and cultures is an assignment. It’s the part of the work that we’re given by our Heavenly Parents here on earth.” Our time on earth, he says, is like a university: “We’re away from home and we’re here to learn, and we’re commanded to look broadly at our brothers and sisters everywhere. And I think that the things we learn here are sacred; they change us and make us more godlike.”

Learn about the European Studies program here.