This chapter provides an overview of the historical development and current state of Middle East Studies in French academia. It starts by distinguishing between different French academic traditions when it comes to studying and analysing the Middle East, provides an overview of their historical roots, and traces their changing relevance and evolution over time. In the process, the chapter places a particular emphasis on the interplay of these traditions with France’s evolving overseas interests and her domestic politics and self-perception, noting the significant role that notions of nostalgia and France’s evolving relationship with its former colonies have played in shaping scholarly traditions. The chapter concludes with some observations on the current state of Middle East Studies in France, its wider international relevance, as well as some more general observations on the interplay of scholarship and politics in France’s Fifth Republic.
This chapter analyses how the image of Europe has been taught and studied at Egyptian universities. Drawing upon Edward Said’s seminal book Orientalism and Egyptian philosopher Hassan Hanafi’s replica Occidentalism, we argue that a kind of ‘EUrientalism’ has taken hold at Egyptian universities. EUrientalism is understood here as a self-reflective paradigm of generating knowledge through a dialogic and interactive partnership between European and Egyptian universities, meant to foster a transformative educational system that reduces existing stereotypes. The chapter examines how the idea(l) of EUrientalism has triggered partnership endeavours between European and Egyptian universities. These include Cairo University’s dedicated ‘Euro-Mediterranean Studies Programme’ which we analyse through a specific focus on curricula from modules in Political Science and Modern History. Nevertheless, several overlapping constraints result in the persistence of an image of Europe as admired friend as well as rejected foe: a lack of critical examination of the Self(s), growing populist discourses in Egypt and Europe, and the narrow confines of academia in authoritarian Egypt.
Situated between the academic and policy communities, think tanks are also engaged in knowledge production on Europe and the Middle East that influences how these geographical entities are imagined in their respective societies. The politics of knowledge production of think tanks is conditioned by several factors: one is the democratic/autocratic context whereby a rising autocratic trend in the Middle East and Europe directly weighs on the work of think tanks. Furthermore, privately funded think tanks live in a tough and competitive funding environment which influences the topics they research. Finally, larger structures of occlusion and exclusion/inclusion reveal a European ‘gaze’ towards the Arab world, but not vice versa. This contribution elaborates on how these factors, in particular the tough competition for funding, affect researchers working in think tanks. Reflecting on the emancipatory potential think tanks and associated researchers can have in this context, the chapter concludes that think tanks should not only see themselves as situated between the academic and policy communities, but should also start to work more closely with marginalised communities.
Danish scholarly engagement with the Middle East began in earnest in the second half of the eighteenth century. This was due to Denmark’s political engagement with the piracy states of the Maghreb, but by 1830 this engagement had come to an end. Despite a strong romantic attachment to the Middle East in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, scholarship was concentrated on the study of the classical languages and literatures and few (Danish) scholars ever lived in the region. In the decades following the Second World War, the Middle East as a political entity was largely neglected. Middle East Studies were finally introduced at the University of Odense in 1981, and the two major universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus followed suit by modernising their Oriental departments in the 1990s and 2000s, respectively. Amongst other factors, jihadi terrorism, the cartoon crisis and the thorny issue of immigration have had an immense effect on scholarship and teaching methods. In the public debate, scholars are often criticised for ignoring religion and culture as factors of influence on Middle Eastern society and politics. This chapter argues that, while the new engagement has led to renewed interest and investment in Middle East Studies, some of the old deficiencies have not been overcome. In particular, few scholars pay attention to local Middle Eastern debates.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a strain on international research by limiting scholars’ ability to travel and increasing the uncertainty they face when working on foreign territories. While volatile environments and safety concerns that predate the pandemic have been strong inhibitors to researching the Middle East, I argue in this chapter that COVID-19 may have provided an opportunity for fairer, more equally weighted research practices. Notably, practical constraints and forced immobility highlighted the crucial skills and relevance of local researchers and communities and created prospects for participatory and inclusive collaborative projects and co-production of knowledge. These reflections build on my experience as an early career researcher in the UK and emerged from remote investigation in northern Syria during the first year of COVID-19. I highlight the opportunities and challenges of collaborative research between Europe and the Middle East – focusing on issues of privilege, inclusion and positionality – in the process of creating ‘glocal’ and balanced knowledge. Beyond Syria, this chapter is meant to contribute to the nascent scholarship about the role and impact of European research on knowledge production about Middle Eastern societies.
This edited volume focuses on knowledge production in higher education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Europe. Its twelve contributions shed light on how academics have deliberated the immensely politicised nature of institutions of higher education and their practices – be these in the context of colonialism, decolonialism, nation-building or political transformation. Cognisant of fragmenting labels in constructions of ‘the MENA’ and of ‘Europe’, our contributors supersede such logics by immersing themselves as subjects and objects of the study at hand, making themselves simultaneously ‘scholar’ and ‘subject’. Therefore, this volume explores the politics of institutes of higher education in view of the scholarly practices that are characteristic of the ways in which the MENA is taught at European universities and how Europe – or increasingly, the European Union (EU) – is discussed at institutions of higher education in the MENA. A reflexive understanding of how we teach and study Europe/the EU at MENA universities and how we teach and study the MENA in Europe is needed to help overcome existing divisions between the Global North and the Global South in knowledge production.
With a selected focus on Europe and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Knowledge production in higher education presents a reflexive understanding of how Europe is taught and studied at MENA universities and how knowledge about the MENA is produced in Europe. This focus is based on the observation that higher education is rarely an apolitical space and an acknowledgement of how ‘every view is a view from somewhere’. It therefore explores the politics of institutes of higher education in view of often competing scholarly practices. Furthermore, it examines the historical evolution of French, German and Italian scholarship on the MENA; analyses the cases of Malta, Palestine and Turkey with their respective liminal characteristics in between the MENA and Europe, and how these impact on higher educational approaches to the study of the Other; considers critique as the driving force not only of the higher educational establishment but of liberal and illiberal contexts, with a specific focus on Denmark, the Netherlands and Egypt; and examines influences upon knowledge production including gender, the COVID-19 pandemic (with a focus on the UK and Syria) and think tanks.
This chapter investigates how teaching the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in Malta has been related to the history and geopolitical environment of this small island state. Unlike major Western countries, Malta has not had a colonial relationship with the MENA and was itself subjugated by occupation and British colonial rule (1813–1964). Furthermore, due to the significant influence of Arab and Muslim rule over the Maltese islands (870–1091), the country displays a deep Arab heritage, most notably in its language. Reflecting this heritage and the country’s geographic proximity to the Tunisian and Libyan shores, the University of Malta (UM) has had a long history of offering courses that focus on aspects of MENA culture, language, society and politics. Analysing enrolment data as well as the country’s geopolitical shifts, this chapter argues that identity formation and boundaries substantially impacted the UM’s knowledge production on the MENA. The chapter further reflects on the issue of student values and positionality as a pedagogical tool to counter exceptionalism that dominates much of the academic landscape with respect to the MENA.
This chapter examines the evolution of Middle East Studies (MES) in Italy and their complex relations with state powers, from the theological and missionary purposes of the Middle Ages to the monarchical and republican colonial enterprises. It also outlines the thematic patterns MES engaged with and explores their current status within academia and the public at large. We combine a knowledge production analysis with a critical literature review approach, also drawing upon a 2019 mapping project by the Italian Society for Middle Eastern Studies (SeSaMo). We argue that colonial-driven MES systematically sidelined a self-reflection on Italy’s colonial past and, by doing so, they have long been on the fringe of both academia and politics. Finally, we argue that MES are becoming more diversified and independent of government agendas, but still struggle to gain full recognition within the Italian academic system, already constrained by structural problems.
This chapter explores the German academic tradition of research on the Orient. It is divided into three main parts which look at the emergence of Oriental Studies prior to the formation of Germany as a nation-state in 1870/71 and, then, the specificities of Orientalism in the German Empire; at continuities and discontinuities in the Weimar Republic and during the Nazi reign; and finally, a comparative perspective on the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) as well as the united (and Europeanised) country since 1990. Two main trends are highlighted: on the one hand, a strong philological tradition, which injects into German-language knowledge production a lasting disposition of text-based encounters in which actual humans and the contemporary Middle East often tend to play a minor role – but in which shared civilisational roots and entanglements between the Orient and the West are strongly emphasised, while stark forms of Othering do exist as well; on the other hand, a gradual transformation towards a greater consideration of social sciences as well as interdisciplinarity, while a debate on epistemic decolonisation has also been set in motion.