A Story About A Professor And “Crazy” Students

Professor Shahab Yar Khan was born in 1967 in the city of Lahore, Pakistan. He is a professor in the English Department at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Sarajevo, where he is continuing an 800-year long tradition of teaching in his family.

Often you can hear Shahab Yar Khan say that teaching is what he is born for, and that there is nothing in the world he would rather do. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been his home since 1998, and during those years he has achieved a lot. He is the kind of person who does not see much point in material riches, and he himself prefers a modest way of life. At the faculty he is known for being different, from the special kind of relationship he has with his students and his approach towards education to his style of teaching.

The Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo opened its doors in 1950 and is now one of the leading academic specialties within the University of Sarajevo. At the Faculty of Philosophy there are 13 departments including the Department of English Language and Literature. This Department consists of the Department of English language, and English and American literature. Professor Khan teaches literary subjects, and his lectures are not in any way ordinary.

His most interesting accomplishment is probably his ‘Shakespeare Drama Club’, founded a year after he came to Bosnia. Ever since 1999, the club has performed plays in honor of the Bard of Avon, the great William Shakespeare.

His club is full of ‘lunatics’, as he likes to say. Those are the students who share his passion for the theatre and acting. Together, without any financial support, they produce shows for their own pleasure. In every play they try to take elements from the cultural traditions of Bosnia and Herzegovina and combine them with Shakespeare’s language.

Professor Khan has done something similar with his lectures – he has brought them into a close relationship with the theater. As a professor of literature at the university, he decided to connect literature and the realities of acting and has done it in his own way.

For the second year of English Language and Literature studies, he created his own subject called ‘Practical Shakespeare’ in which, instead of the classic forms of examination, students have the task of preparing certain scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, which are then presented to a professor in a relaxed atmosphere. In his lectures, he likes to take a part from a certain play, and then act it out in front of his students.

How important is the role of theater in education and literary subjects?

Theater is the art of the wise and the entertainment of the commoner. This rule has been applied in every walk of life for several millennia in all human societies where some people play certain roles and many others simply watch. Theater is not a stage bound exercise, it is part of human nature. All the way from early childhood mimicries to the pretentious looks and speeches of adulthood, people live theatrical lives. Acting offers a vehicle for exploring one’s own possibilities and choices.

The arts connected to ‘logic’, ‘rhetoric’, ‘linguistics’, ‘psychology’, and ‘physiognomy’, contribute to the theatrical art to help one to lift up one’s own spiritual and physical image in a world that is largely devoid of that which is truly spiritual or truly physical and that keeps moving towards chaos or ignorance. If theatrical arts are introduced to the young minds of a nation, more controlled and more vocal personalities might emerge in society, threatening the existing value of systems where the weak grow weaker and the powerful enjoy manipulating the weak. If there were a more ‘purposeful theater ‘ and more purposefulness in theater, our educational systems would prosper and the world would be a better place to breathe in.

How can role-playing contribute to education and learning?

Acting, if done as divine service, allows individuals to become acquainted with themselves. Without this fundamental discovery, all other discoveries lead away from the Truth. Our contemporary world is an excellent example. We live in a world of enormous activity with zero output.

What does the scene as a place of personal expression represent?

Spectacle in a play may mean a lot and at the same time may mean absolutely nothing. We know Beckett’s plays, and later post-modern drama as well, where scenery returned to the stage to suggest a specific age and its particular crisis. I personally like a stage without spectacle since on such a stage space functions as one of the characters. It is the vacuum on stage that gives more meaning to the idea of the meaninglessness of all that exists. I think this vacuum fascinated Shakespeare and it overpowers my imagination as well. A scene prescribed through scenery is a bit too predictable a background, and it dominates the action in the foreground. I enjoy the unexpected and the un-interpreted on stage.

Do you think that in the process of schooling there is too much attention towards general subjects (such as math) and less towards artistic subjects (e.g. music, painting)?

I wish that schooling could be done following the great models of mankind, the prophets and the philosophers of antiquity. Following the models of guide books and experimental teaching has reduced the intellectual capacity of the world’s educated population to a dangerously low level. Educators worldwide must change for their own good if not for the sake of education.

Art through education?

Education is art itself, it is a pure theater and those who don’t approach it as theater will never get to know why they were teaching to begin with. I always say that teaching is not a work plan, it is a happening. One needs to keep on trying to search for one’s best moment; it is a search till eternity.

Can you describe your teaching methods?

I try to follow my ancestral style of teaching, which goes back 8 centuries. I try to help students to break through their protective shields and then bombard them with logical sequences or series of arguments, finally absorbing all into the study topic of the day. I also believe that all methods can be put aside if just one simple law is maintained by a teacher and that is one’s sincere love for what one teaches. This Socratic method has always worked and I wish that now when online teaching vies to replace traditional art, sincerity and an absolute lunacy for teaching will become a principle for many other teachers as well.

So, how important, actually, are theater and role playing in teaching… Role playing is of enormous importance for the development of the individual. If you just look at sport, we understand that playing different roles is of key importance for the success of a collective. If professors in higher education introduced more of this, and did it as a habit, then the teamwork would become an integral part of the learning process, and this certainly would be a prolific ground for better results. For successful team work, every individual has an important role to play, and if one link in the chain is making mistakes, the entire team will suffer. Many positive human values can be learned through this approach: accepting yourself the way you truly are, accepting others, mutual tolerance and much more. Theater as theater is unity that has one goal and that is a successfully done dramatic display. Each person has a role, and each role, regardless of the length of the text or general importance is crucial for the success of the whole performance. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is also a great way to experience different life situations, take the lessons of crucial importance and learn something new through the character you have to present.


This article was originally published in Youth Time print edition, 30th issue. Click here to check the content of the issue, subscribe here, purchase one issue here.

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