Middle East Studies

Research Projects

The Center for Middle East Studies (CMES) promotes research, teaching and public engagement on key issues of the Middle East in a historically and culturally grounded manner. Its coverage includes all time periods—from antiquity to contemporary geopolitics—and an expansive geographical imagination in which the Middle East is both a region with changing boundaries and a conceptual entity, part of global discourses. Scholars are encouraged to explore their different research projects in a shared endeavor of better understanding the Middle East.

Gender Studies in the Middle East and Beyond

This research project, led by Nadje Al-Ali, Robert Family Professor of International Studies, and professor of anthropology and Middle East studies, is based on the recognition that a gendered intersectional lens is central, not marginal, to a deeper analysis and understanding of political mobilizations, social developments and cultural expressions in the Middle East. A gendered lens also allows for a comparative perspective and collaboration with other regional centers and initiatives at Brown University. The project involves panel discussions, lectures and book talks, as well as relevant research.

Racialization and Racism in the Middle East and its Diasporas

Within Middle East Studies, we are intimately familiar with grinding generational struggles for dignity and freedom of colonized, occupied, disenfranchised and oppressed people in the Middle East. Yet the history of slavery and racism within the region has remained understudied, and not sufficiently engaged with. This initiative, co-organized and led by professors Nadje Al-Ali and Beshara Doumaniand supported by Africana Studies, is committed to to initiating internal conversations and dialogue within Brown and Middle East studies more broadly and to organizing activities which engage with the global issues of structural racism and exploitation.

Gender and Body Politics: Arts in the Middle East and its Diasporas

In conversation with artists from the Middle East and North Africa as well as its diasporas, the Gender and Body Politics: Arts in the Middle East and its Diasporas series examines intersecting inequalities and body politics expressed, represented and transgressed in both visual and performance art. Against the backdrop of war and conflict, the rise of authoritarian regimes, displacement and diaspora mobilization, Islamophobia, ongoing orientalist depictions, and challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, this series explores the ways in which artists are informed by and/or contribute to anti-racist, transnational feminist, and queer praxis.  

The Brown University Center for Middle East Studies (CMES) and the Columbia University Middle East Institute (MEI) joint series feature artists online and hosted in-person events. Exhibitions and performances complement the series in locations around New York City and Providence.

Kurdish Studies Project

Kurdish studies have historically been sidelined within Middle East studies or reduced to the study of Kurdish nationalism. While there has been a proliferation of Kurdish studies across the US and Europe in recent years, there has been only limited engagement with Kurdish society in its complexity. The aim of this project led by Nadje Al-Ali, Robert Family Professor of International Studies, is to support and contribute to critical and original Kurdish studies that combine theoretically cutting-edge and empirically grounded work while highlighting creative approaches (films, art, literature) to the study of Kurds and Kurdish societies.

Kurdish Studies Events

Arts and Social Change

The arts have played a pivotal role in shaping and transforming Middle Eastern and Muslim societies, past and present. Through annual workshops, curated exhibits and performances, as well visiting professorships and lectures, this research initiative cultivates a network of scholars passionate about the relationship between the arts and social agency. The aim is to support, innovate, work, and shape research agendas in the fields of Islamic art and architecture, Middle Eastern cinema and photography, fine arts and visual culture, and music and dance.  

Digital Islamic Humanities (archived)

The Digital Islamic Humanities Project is a research initiative devoted to supporting data-driven scholarship on the history, literature, and cultures of the Islamic world. Over the past few decades, humanistic inquiry has been problematized and invigorated by technological advances and the emergence of what is referred to as the digital humanities. Across multiple disciplines, from history to literature, religious studies to philosophy, archaeology to music, scholars are tapping the extraordinary power of digital technologies to preserve, curate, analyze, visualize, and reconstruct their research objects. Through the sponsorship of annual gatherings, workshops, symposia, and other kinds of research projects, this initiative aims to support the state of the art in digital scholarship pertaining to Islamic & Middle East Studies. 

Digital Islamic Humanities Website

Displacement (archived)

Displacement is formative of power relations of inclusion and exclusion. This research initiative pushes at the seams of the humanities, social sciences, and the natural and physical sciences by exploring long-term drivers of displacement. The wager here is that focused interdisciplinary conversation about historical, ecological, and subjective dimensions of displacement as an enduring and global phenomenon, can lay the seeds for imagining alternative futures.

Engaged Scholarship (archived)

Engaged Scholarship explores the politics and ethics of knowledge production in zones of conflict. The aim is to generate critical conversation among scholars from across the disciplines and area studies around the question of what it means to put intellectual work in the service of the social good, broadly defined. 

Engaged Scholarship Website