A New Way to Study the Middle East
The Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies represents a fruitful hybrid between traditional area studies approaches and cross-regional Islamic studies. The University aims to support a full range of traditional Middle East Studies, including the region’s non-Muslim peoples and civilizations, while at the same time broadening the focus to include Muslim peoples and civilizations outside of the traditional area studies limits.
The central organizing principle of UNC’s efforts in Middle East Studies is to develop a new method of studying the region, one that breaks down area studies barriers and combines cross-regional approaches with traditional regional concerns. Middle East Studies has come to be defined by somewhat arbitrary geographic boundaries drawn by the U.S. government in the early days of the Cold War. In the late 20th century, however, a number of scholars concluded that the traditional area studies boundaries have become hindrances to international studies. The global flow of ideas, commodities, and people has accelerated to the point that no region can be studied any longer in isolation.
By contrast with regionally defined Middle East studies, the Carolina approach emphasizes five principles.
- The study of Middle Eastern civilizations outside of the Middle East should be incorporated, whenever possible, into the study of the Middle East.
- Varying definitions of regions, within the Middle East and beyond, should themselves be the object of research and teaching.
- Flows within and between regions should be the focus of research and teaching, as opposed to static visions of geographically immobile cultures.
- Collaboration should be encouraged between scholars and teachers who specialize in the Middle East and scholars and teachers who specialize in other regions.
- The multiple communities of the Middle East should not be neglected in favor of an exclusive focus on cross-regional flows.
The rationale for the Center’s inter-regional approach to the Middle East is laid out more fully by Charles Kurzman in “Cross-Regional Approaches to Middle East Studies: Constructing and Deconstructing a Region,” Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 41, no. 2 (Summer 2007), 24-29.
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