Univ. to step up Middle East studies

The Council on Middle East Studies will unveil an initiative today that will commit more of the University’s resources to studying the contemporary Middle East.

The primary component of the initiative will be the Yale-Middle East Visiting Faculty Program, which will bring three visiting scholars to the University each year to teach classes and conduct research on the modern Middle East, concentrating on regional issues and their global implications. The program will also strengthen Yale’s Iranian Studies and Turkish Studies curricula, and create a public health component that will bring together students and faculty from numerous disciplines.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he is pleased with the development of the contemporary Middle East initiative, particularly because it will bring visiting faculty whose expertise will add to the existing curriculum on the region.

“I know that there is strong student interest in the contemporary Middle East, and — like so many of our students — I look forward to hearing about the courses they propose to offer,” Salovey said in an e-mail.

Ellen Lust-Okar, chair of the Council on Middle East Studies — which is one of several area-specific councils housed in the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies — said the initiative is a positive move by the University and clearly demonstrates Yale’s commitment to the field. She said one of the major strengths of the program is that it will build direct links between students and faculty at Yale and those at Middle Eastern universities. It will also allow student to have contacts before traveling to the region to study, undertake language training or do research, she said.

In addition, the increased number of faculty and courses focusing on the Middle East will alleviate one of the major problems currently impeding the creation of a Modern Middle East Studies major, Lust-Okar said. The interdisciplinary nature of the initiative will provide a broad approach to study of the region, she said.

“What I think is really exciting about this is the way that it really does bring together different parts of the University,” Lust-Okar said. “[There will be] active engagement coming out of the humanities and the sciences as well as public health, medicine and the Child Studies Center.”

Two of the three visiting scholars for the 2007-’08 academic year have already been selected: Shaul Mishal, a political science professor from Tel Aviv University who studies Palestinian politics and Islamic fundamentalism, and Farhad Khosrokhavar, a sociology professor from Paris’ Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales who specializes in Iran, Islam and the West. The final visiting faculty member will be confirmed soon and is anticipated to be an expert in North African law and politics.

The courses, workshops and talks offered by next year’s visiting scholars will all center on the intersection between politics and religion in the Middle East, Lust-Okar said. The next two years’ themes will be global health followed by the concerns of state construction and consolidation.

The expansion of the Iranian and Turkish Studies programs will involve putting more resources toward panel discussions as well as speaker and film series. The public health program, which will be led by Epidemiology and Public Health professor Kaveh Khoshnood, will bring together faculty from a variety of departments. It will include a forum on Iraqi public health and the potential creation of a seminar on health and foreign policy. Additional resources will also be invested in Yale’s chapter of Empowerment and Resilience in Children Everywhere, an international project that seeks to better the lives of Israeli and Palestinian children.

Yigit Dula ’08, who is from Turkey, said that in the past the University has not put enough resources toward the study of culture and identity in the Middle East, especially Turkey. Courses on Turkey, for example, are limited to language study, which is not the case at other Ivy League institutions that have more developed programs, Dula said. Still, he said he is pleased to hear about the creation of this initiative.

“That’s definitely a great step,” Dula said. “There’s a lot of demand, especially with the current international setting, and there’s going to be increased demand for those classes.”

The visiting faculty component of the initiative has already received enough funding to cover three years, and the MacMillan Center is currently trying to obtain permanent funding sources for the other aspects of the program.

Lust-Okar emphasized that the visiting scholar program will not end the ongoing search for permanent faculty members studying the Middle East, although she hopes bringing in these new scholars yearly will facilitate that process.

A number of faculty searches in modern Middle East studies are still underway, Lust-Okar said. One position was originally offered to controversial University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole last year, but he was ultimately rejected by the Senior Appointments Committee.

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