Academics in the digital age face a unique duo of networking problems. First, how can scholars from different backgrounds and disciplines connect to create a forum of interdisciplinary discussion and dialogue? And second, how can these new forums bring their collective knowledge, cutting-edge research, and resources to the attention of policymakers, policy analysts, and journalists on a broad scale?
Middle East Studies@American University, an interdisciplinary initiative formed to build ties across the different schools on AU’s campus, has worked to cultivate a community of scholarly interest on Middle Eastern issues and to provide a forum for discussion, debate, and dialogue on important and current events throughout the region. With support from the Social Science Research Council’s “Academia in the Public Sphere” program, MES@AU has launched “Islam in Focus,” a multimedia initiative designed to bring the work of Middle Eastern scholars to the forefront of policy and media. Through collaboration with Bloggingheads.tv – a high-profile “vlog” site that pioneered split-screen video dialogues – the initiative produced online video dialogues that presented leading academics and members of the broader media community discussing issues relating to the Middle East and helped to disemminate their policy relevant insights and scholarship.
MES@AU has brought “Islam in Focus” to American University’s campus, hosting lectures on Muslim-Western relations, Islamist movements in the Middle East, Islamic liberalism and liberal constitutionalism, nonviolence and the Palestinian movement, and the role of social movements in the 2011 Arab Spring. In addition “Islam in Focus” supported two media training events for American University faculty and PhD students and brought a distinguished set of policy-makers, academics, researchers, activists, and civil society experts together for a dialogic roundtable, “Negotiating Afghanistan: The Future of Gender Equality.” This roundtable was designed to discuss, theorize, debate, and conceptualize strategies which might strengthen the position of Afghan women and their interests at the negotiating table as foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, or even sooner. This roundtable and other events funded under this grant have tried to bridge the distance between the policy world and scholars and researchers who write about Middle East politics and the Muslim world.
Uprisings in the Middle East: A Social Movement & Comparative Perspective
On Friday, March 25th, 2011, Middle East Studies @AU, in collaboration with Comparative and Regional Studies (SIS) and the Department of Government (SPA) hosted a public panel linking social movement theory to the recent uprisings and rebellions in the Middle East. The event, "Uprisings in the Middle East: A Social Movement & Comparative Perspective," offered scholars a chance to reflect on recent events in the Middle East from the perspective of their own fields, providing a rich analysis of the challenges and opportunities facing Tunisia, Egypt, and the broader region in the wake of large-scale collective protests.
The public panel featured insight and analysis from Jack Goldstone (School of Public Policy - George Mason University), Marc M. Howard (Department of Government - Georgetown University), Adrienne LeBas (School of Public Affairs - American University), Cathy Schneider (School of International Service - American University), and Diane Singerman (School of Public Affairs - American University).
The Middle East uprisings spark new questions about the role of religion in government and the proper U.S. response to a changing Arab world. In light of these events, MES@AU, with support from the Social Science Research Council's "Academia in the Public Sphere" program, invited Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to discuss his experience as chairman of the Cordoba Initiative and his life's work of bridging the divide between Muslims and the West. Co-hosted by the Islam & World Affairs and Journalism Programs, Washington Semester, and MES@AU, the lecture, held on February 28th, 2011, prompted lively discussion between Imam Feisel and the audience.