News & Events
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The Middle East Center at Penn sponsors and supports programs and initiatives across the disciplines and professional schools, and runs a dynamic outreach program in the Delaware Valley. Faculty and students at Penn are also active and prominent in the field of Middle East studies, making significant and highly regarded contributions to scholarly output in their areas of interest. We will continue to update news of the Center's activities and highlight the achievements of our faculty and students here.

Jan
20
Information Session Interested in applying to the Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowships? Please join us at the FLAS Information Session! Representatives from the Center for Africana Studies,  South Asia Center, and the Middle East Center will give a presentation on application procedures and fellowship requirements that will be followed by a Q&A session.
12:00pm
Claudia Cohen Hall, Room 402
Jan
26
Dr. Sabine Schmidtke, The Institute for Advanced Study The Zaydī community is a branch of Shīʿī Islam that has flourished mainly in two regions, namely the mountainous Northern Highlands of Yemen and the Caspian regions of Northern Iran. The two Zaydī states that were established in Yemen and Northern Iran constituted separate political and cultural entities. During the 10th and 11th centuries the Zaydīs of Yemen became increasingly isolated from their coreligionists in Iran as a result of their geographical remoteness and political isolation . The situation changed radically in the early 12th century, when a rapprochement between the two Zaydī communities began that eventually resulted in their political unification which was accompanied by a transfer of knowledge from Northern Iran to Yemen that comprised nearly the entire literary and religious legacy of Caspian Zaydism. Most of this legacy is preserved until today in the private and public libraries of Yemen as well as in the various European collections of manuscripts of Yemeni provenance. During the reign of al-Manṣūr, the knowledge transfer to Yemen reached its peak. The Imam founded a library in Ẓafār, his town of residence, for which he had a wealth of books copied by a team of scholars and scribes. In 1929 the rich holdings of his library, which continued to grow under his successors, were transferred from Ẓafār to the newly founded al-Khizāna al-Mutawakkiliyya in Ṣanʿāʾ. The library, which is housed even today in the complex of the Great Mosque of Ṣanʿāʾ, is also known as al-Maktaba al-Sharqiyya (since 1984: Maktabat al-Awqāf). The presentation will discuss some of the codicological features of the manuscripts that were produced for the library of Imam al-Mansur. Dr. Sabine Schmidtke (D.Phil. University of Oxford) is Professor of Islamic Intellectual History at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. She has published extensively on Islamic and Jewish intellectual history. Her works include Theologie, Philosophie und Mystik im zwölferschiitischen Islam des 9./15. Jahrhunderts. Die Gedankenwelt des Ibn Abī Jumhūr al-Aḥsāʾī (um 838/1434-35 - nach 906/1501) (Leiden 2000), and, together with Reza Pourjavady, A Jewish Philosopher of Baghdad. ʿIzz al-Dawla Ibn Kammūna and his Writings (Leiden 2006).
5:30pm
Fisher-Bennett Hall 231, 3340 Walnut Street, Philadelphia
Feb
21
Dr. Ami Ayalon, Professor Emeritus, Tel Aviv University Printing was adopted in the Arab countries in the nineteenth century and assumed mass proportions during the last half-century of Ottoman rule there. The talk will discuss the early phase of that practice in the region and examine major barriers and creative solutions in printing, publishing, and diffusion. Ami Ayalon is professor emeritus of modern Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University. Having earned his Ph.D. from Princeton (1980), he subsequently taught at the Department of Middle Eastern and African History in Tel Aviv, until 2013. Ayalon's scholarly work focuses on the cultural history of Arabic-speaking societies in modern times. In recent years he has been interested primarily in the introduction of printing into the Middle East and its wide implications.  His latest book, The Arabic Print Revolution; Cultural Production and Mass Readership, was published in October 2016 by Cambridge University Press.
12:00pm
GSE Room 200, 3700 Walnut Street, Philadelphia
Feb
27
Dr. Alan Verskin, University of Rhode Island Love, Dreams and the Afterlife in Medieval Aleppo: An Episode in ʿAlī b. Yūsuf Ibn al-Qifṭī's Taʾrīkh al-Ḥukamāʾ This lecture examines the remarkable friendship between a prominent Muslim and Jew, both residents of Ayyubid Aleppo: Rabbi Yūsuf Ibn Shamʿūn (d. 1226), a philosopher, poet, physician and merchant, and ʿAlī b. Yūsuf Ibn al-Qifṭī (d. 1248), a Muslim scholar and leading Ayyubid official. Dr. Verskin will present what is known about this seemingly unlikely friendship, and discuss the various factors that fostered it. Many scholars understand such interfaith friendships as the product of philosophical humanism, or even as a triumph of proto-secularism over religious particularism. Dr. Verskin demonstrates, however, that there is nothing post-religious or secular about Ibn al-Qifṭī and Yūsuf. They were trained in religious law and they cared about the ultimate religious questions. Moreover, according to what is known of their discussions, they were both concerned about which of them was right and which was wrong. Dr. Verskin demonstrates that it was that very interest in religious truth and falsehood that bound them together, despite their differing religions. Finally, Dr. Vesrkin considers the political background of their friendship. He also discusses how Yūsuf’s foundational education in philosophy was accomplished in Almohad lands and what this can tell us about the ambiguous relationship between cultural enlightenment and religious coexistence. Meanwhile in Syria, which on account of being the site of the Crusades might appear to be the very epitome of the “clash of civilizations,” there was still a sphere for interreligious coexistence in lands ruled by Muslims. Alan Verskin is an assistant professor of history at the University of Rhode Island. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University and an M.A. from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of two books discussing Muslim experiences of non-Muslim rule: Islamic Law and the Crisis of the Reconquista: The Debate on the Status of Muslim Communities in Christendom (Brill, 2015) and Oppressed in the Land? Fatwas on Muslims Living under Non-Muslim Rule from the Middle Ages to the Present (Markus Wiener, 2013). His academic work ranges in topic from nineteenth-century Yemen to medieval Spain, and from Islamic law to Jewish philosophy. He is an avid translator of Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, and Hebrew. He is currently at work on a book entitled, Discovery and Deceit: The Travels of a European Orientalist and his Jewish Native Guide in Nineteenth-Century Yemen.  
5:30pm
TBA
Mar
5
Dr. Hassan Farhang Ansari, The Institute for Advance Studies Dr. Hassan Farhang Ansari is the Elizabeth and J. Richardson Dilworth Fellow at the Institute for Advanced  Studies at Princeton University. Dr. Ansari earned his doctorate at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE) of the Sorbonne, Paris. He also studied at the Ḥawza ʿIlmiyya, Tehran and Qum, where his work focused on the study of philosophy, theology, canon law, and legal theory. He is currently a Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His publications include Accusations of Unbelief in Islam: A Diachronic Perspective on Takfīr, eds. Camilla Adang, Hassan Ansari, Maribel Fierro, and Sabine Schmidtke, Islamic History and Civilization series (Leiden: Brill [in press]; L’imamat et l’Occultation selon l’imamisme: Étude bibliographique et histoire des textes (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming); and a critical edition of Ibn al-Malāḥimī’s Tuḥfat al-mutakallimīn fī l-radd ʿalā l-falāsifa (Tehran 2008, with Wilferd Madelung). Dr. Ansari's talk focuses on  Sunnīsm in Rayy during the Saljuq period. A work in point during this period is  Kitāb al-Naqḍ by ʿAbdu-l Jalīl al-Qazwīnī al-Rāzī.During the Seljuq period Rayy was a Ḥanafī /Muʿtazilī, Shīʿī, and Shāfiʿī/Ashʿarī city. The intellectual life of the Sunni scholars of Rayy in the Saljūqid period, be they of Ḥanafī or Shāfiʿī Schools, is interconnected with their coreligionists’ situation in other parts of Iran – especially Nayshābūr and Iṣfahān – which is, as a whole, a reflection of the vacillatory, and occasionally paradoxical, policies of Saljūq kings and viziers vis-à-vis these two Schools. There are very rare independent and documentary evidence of the intellectual tradition in Rayy. According to Dr. Ansari, we are thus left with a handful of sources for the activities of the Sunni scholars of Rayy at this time and their relationships with each other and also with the Zaydīs and the Imāmīs.        
5:30pm
TBA
Mar
8
Dr. Shadi Hamid, The Brookings Insitution In Islamic Exceptionalism, Brookings Institution scholar and acclaimed author Shadi Hamid offers a novel and provocative argument on how Islam is, in fact, “exceptional” in how it relates to politics, with profound implications for how we understand the future of the Middle East. Divides among citizens aren’t just about power but are products of fundamental disagreements over the very nature and purpose of the modern nation state—and the vexing problem of religion’s role in public life. Hamid argues for a new understanding of how Islam and Islamism shape politics by examining different models of reckoning with the problem of religion and state, including the terrifying—and alarmingly successful—example of ISIS.  With unprecedented access to Islamist activists and leaders across the region, Hamid offers a panoramic and ambitious interpretation of the region’s descent into violence. Islamic Exceptionalism is a vital contribution to our understanding of Islam’s past and present, and its outsized role in modern politics. We don’t have to like it, but we have to understand it—because Islam, as a religion and as an idea, will continue to be a force that shapes not just the region, but the West as well in the decades to come.   For more information please view the attached PDF below.   Sponsored by the Middle East Center and Center for Civic Leadership and Responsibility
7:00pm
Civic Hall, Connector Building, Blackwood Campus, Camden County College
Mar
29
Dr. Ian Lustick, University of Pennsylvania For at least three and a half decades US foreign policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict has been organized around “the peace process.” Originally the idea was that the process, guided and helped along by American diplomats and their “good offices,” would enable Arab and Israeli negotiators to follow a path from conflict to peace. The idea was that the process would lead to somewhere different, somewhere better than the place where it began. But instead of a road leading from here to there, the peace process has been a carousel, in constant movement, but never moving. Fruitless negotiations stagger on, end, then restart under a slightly different name, and with a slowly changing cast of characters. This lecture will offer specific illustrations of this pattern and offer an explanation for why it continues, despite its failures, but, in a very real sense, because of the knowledge of those involved in each go-round, that they, too, will fail.    For more information please review the PDF attached below. Sponsored by the Middle East Center and the Center for Civic Leadership and Responsibility
7:00pm
Camden County College, Center for Civic Leadership and Responsibility
Apr
5
Dr. Samuel Helfont, University of Pennsylvania Iraq has been at the center of American foreign policy for over a quarter century. Will it continue to play such a pivotal role? This talk will discuss the future of Iraq and what that means for the United States. For more information please review the attached PDF below. Sponsored by the Middle East Center and the Center for Civic Leadership and Responsibility.
7:00pm
Civic Hall, Connector Building, Blackwood Campus, Camden County College
Apr
12
James Ryan, PhD Candidate, University of Pennsylvania Since the parliamentary elections of June 2015, which dealt a minor setback to Justice and Development Party, Turkey has experienced two of the most tumultuous years in its history. Turkey has become increasingly involved in the Syrian conflict, suffered several of the worst terror attacks the country has ever endured, re-ignited a decades-old conflict with Kurdish separatists in the country’s southeast region, and, most recently, survived an attempted coup on July 15, 2016. As the country undergoes a serious transformation in the wake of the coup attempt and with a constitutional referendum on the horizon, this talk will recap the last two years of current events, and offer some preliminary analysis of the ongoing transformation occurring in Turkey.  For more information please review the attached PDF below. Sponsored by the Midde East Center and the Center for Civic Leadership and Responsibility.
7:00pm
Civic Hall, Connector Building, Blackwood Campus, Camden County College
Apr
19
Dr. Brian Spooner, University of Pennsylvania The Middle East as we know it today was formed by Western intervention, resulting from competition between the British and Russian Empires in the 19th century at the eastern end of the region and by the British and French division of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War at the Western end. The “national” boundaries drawn by the Western powers, and the new governments that they supported, are not working any more. The Afghan and Persian governments were overthrown by revolutions in 1978 and 1979; America terminated the Iraqi regime in 2003, and Syria has been in conflict since 2011 as a result of what came to be known as The Arab Spring. The results of Western intervention are being transformed into new social and political currents that derive from the earlier history of the region. For more information please review the PDF posted below. Sponsored by the Middle East Center and the Center for Civic Leadership and Responsibility.
7:00pm
Civic Hall, Connector Building, Blackwood Campus, Camden County College
Apr
26
Dr. Anna Viden, International Relations Program. University of Pennsylvania The talk will shed light on Saudi Arabia’s new more assertive foreign policy and how it affects current and future relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia. It will address the conflict in Syria, the ongoing war in Yemen, arms transfers, and the relationship between the members of OPEC on the one hand, and between OPEC and the West on the other. The talk will also focus on the internal political situation in Saudi Arabia, which of course significantly may impact Saudi Arabia’s ability to carry out its ambitious foreign policy and new economic global compact which was announced by the Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman last April. For more information about the event please open the attached PDF below. Sponsored ByCenter for Civic Leadership and Responsibility (Camden County College) and the Middle East Center (University of Pennsylvania)
7:00pm
Civic Hall, Connector Building, Blackwood Campus, Camden County College