Center News

High-Profile Lectures at the Middle East Center Raises Awareness  

The Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania continues to enhance the knowledge about the region throughout the campus community and general public through high-profile lectures on a frequent basis. Just to highlight a few, in the past two weeks, two very distinguished academics, Dr. Abbas Milani from Stanford University and Dr. Michael Cook from Princeton University, traveled to Penn to participate in academic lectures hosted by the Middle East Center. 

On March 25th, Dr. Milani, the Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institute, spoke about the Future of Modernity in Iran. He began his discussion by commenting on alternative paradigms of modernity in Iran in the 1950's and 1960's and finished up with the current state of affairs in Iran and the future prospects of the country. The event was well attended by both Penn students and students from neighboring campuses like Drexel and Temple in addition to many members of the interested public in Philadelphia. Dr. Milani led an informative and engaging Q&A session with around 70 people attending the event. 

On April 2nd, Dr. Cook, the Class of 1943 University Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, explored the relationship between Muhammad and the Deputies he left in charge of Medina in his absence. Dr. Cook was able to decipher complex, ambiguous historical evidence and gave an extremely informative presentation that was academically accessible to many. His lecture was extremely well received, with around 65 students, academics and community members in attendance. His lecture was also covered by the Daily Pennsylvanian (Click here to view article in its entirety). 

These types of academic lectures, that are always free and open to public, are just one of many ways in which the Penn Middle East Center is contributes to the knowledge about the region at Penn and beyond.

Foreign Language and Area Fellowships Open Doors For Penn Students 

The Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, along with South Asia Center, African Studies Center, and the Center for East Asian Studies, has contributed to the study of foreign languages and international area studies at Penn for decades. At Penn, the Middle East Center, South Asia Center, and African Studies Center offer Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships for summer and the academic year to promote the study of various Less Commonly Taught Languages and international area studies among students after annual competitions. FLAS fellowships for the study of modern Arabic, Hebrew, Kurdish, Tajik, Turkish, and Persian are offered through the Middle East Center. Penn News featured an article on FLAS recipients, including Middle East Center FLAS fellows Mr. Zahir Rahman and Mr. Mohamed Abdelgany, and how these fellowships contributed to their career goals.

To read the full article please click here.

Arabic Language Immersion Preps Penn Senior for Government Service Career

Blake Harwood, a Modern Middle Eastern Studies and International Relations Major, will be graduating from Penn in May of 2015. It can certainly be said that language learning has been her passion at Penn, stemming from her winning a scholarship to study in Arabic in Cairo for six weeks in high school. Since this inaugural scholarship, Harwood has gone on to study Arabic and Spanish in Morocco and Tunisia multiple times having been awarded the prestigious Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS), Critical Language Scholarship, and the David L. Boren Scholarship. The FLAS fellowship awarded through the Penn Middle East Center allowed Blake to study Arabic in Morocco in 2014. Boren L. Scholarship will require Harwood to contribute a year of government service after graduation. 

To read the full article at Penn News please click here.

Western Asia Day at Penn

On March 24th, 2015, the Middle East Center hosted several students and their teachers from Moorestown Friends School as part of the its K-12 outreach programs. Students and teachers were particularly interested in learning about Middle Eastern countries and their cultures. To provide the visiting students with a diverse wealth of information on the subject matter, three Penn graduate students presented on the region and two major Middle Eastern countries. Osman Balkan, PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science, made a general introduction to the Middle East. Two other Penn graduate students Basak Taraktas (PhD Candidate in Political Science) and Ali Karjoo-Ravary (PhD Candidate in Religious Studies) talked about Turkey and Iran respectively. At the end of their presentations Penn students led a Q & A session with the high-schoolers and their teachers. The Middle East Center periodically hosts K-12 students or send qualified graduate students to schools in the greater Philadelphia area to enhance the knowledge about the region among K-12 educators and students.

2015 International Women's Day

On Wednesday, March 4th, International House Philadelphia hosted the extremely successful 2015 International Women’s Day.  A collaboration between numerous organizations including Penn’s Area Studies Centers, Penn Women’s Center, Asian American Studies, Graduate Center and Family Resource Center, International Women’s Day brought together over 100 people to listen to guest speakers and discuss this years theme “Global Migrant Rights and Justice.”  Five speakers, all of whom brought different expertise and unique experiences to the discussion, addressed the audience.  Ayodele Gansallo (Immigration Attorney and Educator), Mia-lia Kiernan (Founder and Organizer of 1 Love Movement), Shamaine Daniels (Harrisburg Councilwoman), Silvia Huerta (Student Activist) and Fariha Khan (Associate Director of Penn’s Asian American Studies and Event Moderator) each spoke on their respective areas of expertise and answered questions from the audience in an extraordinarily passionate and lively Q&A.  Guests were also treated to dinner, dessert and refreshments.  The evening’s program was opened by a wonderful performance from the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir, a vocal ensemble dedicated to celebrating “the diversity of women’s lives and culture.”

Interfaith Dialogue and Outreach 

The Middle East Center and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has been collaborating on interfaith dialogue projects that promotes mutual understanding between Islam and Judaism for the past five years. Several students from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College got together with Penn graduate students and staff for the launch event of Muslims in America Course at the Greenfield intercultural center on February 25, 2014. Rabbis Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer and Michael Ramberg from the RRC hosted the event. MEC Director Dr. Mehmet Darakcioglu provided information about the administration of the program as well as the activities of the Middle East Center during the launch event. 

Penn Middle East Center and South Asia Center Launch New Pulitzer International Student Reporting Fellowship Program

On February 5th, the South Asia Center, the Middle East Center, and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting hosted a two-part event to officially launch the Pulitzer International Student Reporting Fellowship Program.  The event, co-hosted by South Asia Center Assistant Director Dr. Raili Roy and Middle East Center Associate Director Dr. Mehmet Darakcioglu, served as an information session for students interested in international reporting. Additionally, the Centers screened No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, International Emmy Award Nominee and Winner of a 2014 BRITDOC Impact Award, and played host to the filmmaker, Callum Macrae.

The event gave students the opportunity to learn about the Pulitzer International Student Reporting Fellowship, a program co-sponsored by the South Asia Center and Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The event provided essential information to potential applicants: 

  • Any Penn student who is going to South Asia or the Middle East over the summer of 2015 is welcome to apply.  Previous journalism experience is not a requirement but an open mind and a willingness to write, photograph and/or create videos is necessary. Center editors will work closely with the fellows on storytelling strategies, reporting methods and travel logistics. The fellows will participate in a Pulitzer Center-conducted workshop before leaving as well as mentorship and editorial support in the field.
  • The 2 winning fellows, one focused on South Asia and one on the Middle East,  will complete news articles, short videos, slideshows or other media products, with editorial support and mentorship. The fellows will help illuminate another part of the world for the Penn community and beyond. The fellows’ work will be published on the Pulitzer Center site and possibly other outlets. The fellows will also be expected to participate in outreach efforts for the South Asia Center or Middle East Center upon return to campus.
  • The winning fellows will receive $500 upon completion of the deliverables, plus invaluable editorial support and mentorship
  • Application Deadline is March 31st, 2015

Students were also treated to a screening of No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka as well as a panel discussion with No Fire Zone filmmaker Callum Macrae and Penn South Asia Studies Professor Teren Sevea.  They discussed the ongoing quest for truth, justice and accountability in the aftermath of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war.

For more information on the Pulitzer International Student Reporting Fellowship Program, or to download a fellowship application, please visit   You may also want to visit the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Penn Area Studies Centers Host "Asia Day" for Local High Schools

In partnership with the Penn Center for East Asian Studies, the South Asia Center and the Penn Museum, the Middle East Center co-sponsored “Asia Day” for local area high school students on February 11th, 2015.  Approximately 120 students from four area high schools participated in the daylong program.  This year’s Asia Day theme was “The Many Faces of Islam.”  Students listened to lectures, participated in Urdu and Arabic language classes, and took a tour through the Penn Museum.  The visiting students interacted with Penn staff and graduate students, took part in Q&A sessions and learned about a number of world regions. 

Following the morning session, the visiting students enjoyed a lunch featuring South Asian and East Asian cuisine.  After lunch, the students were treated to three different performances highlighting unique aspects of Asian and Middle Eastern culture.  Juan Ibrahim Castrillion, a Penn PhD student in Ethnomusicology, performed traditional Sufi music playing instruments such as ney and bendir.  Ibrahim Miari, a Lecturer of Modern Hebrew at Penn, performed a traditional Whirling Dervishes dance, accompanied by music performed by Mr. Castrillion.  Finally, the daylong program closed with a performance by Penn Masti, the university’s premier South Asian co-ed fusion dance team. 

Penn Middle East Center co-hosts FLAS information session

On January 23, 2015, undergraduate and graduates students gathered to learn about Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. Representatives from Penn’s National Resource Centers (Middle East Center, Africa Center, and South Asia Center) gave a brief presentation on the types of opportunities available for Penn students.  They also explained the FLAS Fellowship eligibility requirements and application procedures. 

This information session not only gave interested students background about the FLAS Fellowship program, but it also gave them ample time to get their specific questions answered.  Many students stated that they had summer research plans and language acquisition goals, and the National Resource Center representatives were able to explain what options FLAS Fellowships presented to help students achieve their goals.

MEC Hosts Students from Church Farm High School

On December 10, 2014 the Middle East Center hosted eight students and their teacher from the Church Farm School High School (Exton, Pennsylvania). The students, who are currently taking a class on the Middle East, wrote a policy paper on United States foreign policy options concerning the ongoing crisis in Syria. The Center’s Associate Director Dr. Mehmet Darakcioglu and Student Researcher Alex deBerardinis shared their feedbacks about the paper, each providing constructive criticism and in-depth information on the subject material. The event brought together enthusiastic students willing to learn about the Middle East and the Center staff willing to share their knowledge about the region.