Dr. Öystein LaBianca
Associate Director, Institute of Archaeology
Professor of Anthropology
What kind of work do you do outside of teaching at Andrews University?
Previously, I used to do archeological research in the Egypt, but recently I have focused on the country of Jordan, in the Middle East.
What does the research you do consist of?
We usually excavate a biblical place called Tall Hisban. This site has ruins from biblical times, the Hellenistic Roman times and from Islamic times. Recently my work has been heavily involved with the local community of Jordan. I am partnering with the local residents in helping to take care of the site that we have been excavating and preserving..
What are your thoughts on the recent travel ban?
I feel that the travel ban is a dismal development and a bad policy by the U.S. government. I do believe it will weaken the standing of America in the Muslim world and the world at large. Our reputation as a country is made up of immigrants; I remember reading a statistic that said they make up 13% of the population and account for 26% of business start-ups in America. For example, Steve Jobs’ father came from Syria; we wouldn't have Apple if it weren't for his father who emigrated her.. I also want to add that fear is a bad basis for any kind of public policy and it seems that this administration is using fear as a main instrument of policy. In history, fear-based policies have typically led to people giving up their freedoms and becoming dominated by a tyrant. I see the role that my students and myself who travel abroad as bridge-builders who help connect the gap between the Arab/Islamic world and America.
Has that affected your research, if so how?
Yes, in the sense that it made me more keen to continue my fieldwork and to publish my studies in a way that helps break down barriers. It has given me a reason to help people realize that Muslims and Islam are not harmful to any society.
Does the ban change some of your considerations for further research?
No. In fact, it makes me more more anxious to continue my research in the field and in writing. We plan to still go back to Jordan from June 28 to July 24, and I don't expect any problems while out there.
Due to what is going on, there is a concern that the trip to Jordan is being reconsidered, is this true?
No, it is not. We are still going to Jordan; it is a very friendly country to the United States and it is not on the list of the six banned countries. The first head of state from an Islamic country was the king of Jordan, King Abdullah, who came and met Mr. Trump about a week ago. This tells us that Jordan is on good terms with America. I don’t expect the ban to ever extend to Jordan anymore than I expect it to extend to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, or some other countries because those are allies of the United States. I have organized 25 field trips to Jordan and we also have a trip planned to Jerusalem and Israel afterwards.
Are you considering former or current Andrews University students for this research abroad?
I mostly bring current students at both graduate and undergraduate levels. However, it is open to former students and for students who aren’t studying archeology. For example, some of my former students come from England, Norway, California and so forth.
What is one of your most memorable research experiences?
There was a time I was a part of a team, in Jordan, that found a rolling stone tomb that had not been opened, so it was full of beautiful-preserved perfume bottles, earrings and other fascinating things. The bodies were fully disintegrated but there were still bones and other objects in there.