Theresa Watts Explores Colonialism, Holocaust, Religion and More

Theresa Watts is both a religious studies and international studies major, with a concentration in Africa and the Middle East. She plans to graduate in May of 2018.

As this date is quickly approaching, Watts continues to work on her passion project, which is also conveniently her honors thesis.

More specifically, Watts plans to research and report the role that Arabs had during the Holocaust, while paying particular attention to Arabs in North Africa.

“I was really interested in the way that religion functioned in communities,” she said. “I have a passion for human rights, and I always felt that religion is a huge part of human rights.”

Mehnaz Afridi, associate professor at Manhattan College, is helping her along the way.

“Dr.Afridi’s guidance and expertise has been invaluable in developing this project and also in exploring post-graduation options,” Watts said.

Furthermore, Watts was drawn to this topic due to it being rather unexplored.

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Watts is considering to go to graduate school to study human rights and partake in more inter religious discussions. THERESA WATTS/COURTESY

“I was really interested in Muslims during the Holocaust because I felt like they had never really been discussed,” she said. “I am specifically interested in the way that colonialism played a role in the Holocaust.”

The senior then discussed some of what she felt were her most interesting findings, yet she still craves to learn more.

“North Africa was a very unexplored area during the Holocaust but it was also very vital,” she said. “I’m really interested in contributing and learning more about a field that is so unexplored. I think that most people focus on Europe when it comes to the Holocaust, so I’m interested to see more about how North Africa played a role.”

Watts feels that colonialism plays an increasingly large role in her research.

“I think that colonialism has had a great influence on Africa as a whole. North Africa is still majority Muslim, not a lot of people have converted to Christianity, which isn’t the case in West Africa, where Christianity is now a prominent religion,” she said. “I’m interested in how colonialism has interacted with religion, It’s been very turbulent.”

She continues while her genuine interest soars.

“I’ve always focused on colonialism in my studies, and I’ve always felt like it was something that we learn about in school, but we never quite understand the full impact that colonialism has had on the African Continent.”

Colonialism was an overarching influence in this realm of study, according to Watts.

“I’m most interested in the colonial approach: How colonialism influenced Muslims in their countries, and how it has been an overarching influence over the way that they act.”

Dr. Afridi continues to inspire Watts, while her passion for unveiling uncommon ground only heightens.

Throughout her research, the senior remains stunned by a few truths and the lack of scholarship available that pertains to this topic.

“I feel like I’m always shocked by the impact that colonialism has had on communities around the world, and a lot of scholarship isn’t including that,” she said. “I feel like colonialism is a deciding factor towards how Muslims treated Jews.”

After she graduates from Manhattan this spring, Watts plans to continue her focus on human rights, whether that be in the classroom or elsewhere.

“I’m thinking about going to grad school, and I would like to go into human rights and work in an organization that participates in inter religious dialogue between communities that are experiencing post war,” she said. “That’s my ultimate hope, but I also think that I want to teach at a college level in human rights in ways that relate to religion.”