Yale and the Middle East

Yale University’s Involvement with the Middle East and North Africa

In 2001, University leaders made a commitment to advance the internationalization of Yale. Five years later, Newsweek magazine placed Yale third among the “Top 100 Global Universities,” and today we continue to increase the number and scope of our international programs and initiatives. The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies is the major engine of that ongoing effort. As Yale’s hub for interdisciplinary teaching and research on international affairs, societies, and cultures worldwide, the MacMillan Center is the principal resource for faculty and students who engage in international research and collaboration. Seven undergraduate majors and four masters programs are offered through the Center, and hundreds of workshops, lectures, conferences and events take place each year under its auspices.

The Middle East and North Africa are among the MacMillan Center’s priorities, and its faculty and students are eager to work with scholars, students, and practitioners from across the MENA region. The MacMillan Center’s Council on Middle East Studies is the hub of interdisciplinary study of the Middle East and North Africa at Yale, supporting and coordinating Yale’s faculty specialists. Our faculty has deep expertise in the languages, cultures, history, politics, and economics of the MENA region. (See faculty list below.) Yale University resources also include first-rate libraries, from the Sterling Memorial Library to the Beinecke Library, housing rare books and manuscripts. These offer scholars access to first rate collections of materials on the Middle East and North Africa (indeed a collection that rivals many found in the region itself), across the disciplines. Yale students, at the graduate and undergraduate level, are among the best in the nation.

Scholars and practitioners from the MENA region come to our campus every year to lecture and conduct research through the MacMillan Center. Each year a cohort of undergraduate, masters, professional school and doctoral students compete for campus and external funds to pursue more individually focused policy, service and research projects in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Many students have already had remarkable experience in the region through a wide range of opportunities, including language study with U.S. Department of Education Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships, the Yale Law School’s Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, and engagement with the Yale Arab Alumni Association.

Yale’s Vision for Expanded Involvement in the Middle East and North Africa
Building on this substantial foundation, the University now aims to expand its programs. Our vision is to create new intellectual and exchange opportunities for students, faculty, and practitioners to engage in ongoing collaborations with individuals and institutions in the Middle East and North Africa and at Yale. Funding for innovative programs, under the leadership of the director of the MacMillan Center, would help us realize that vision by supporting efforts in three priority areas: 1) Institutions, leadership and governance; 2) exchanges with universities in the Middle East and North Africa; and 3) addressing issues of Middle Eastern and North African heritage and culture.

1. Institutions, Leadership and Governance
From lessons learned by the last generation of social scientists, we now know that reasonably functioning democracies and viable development strategies can be created and sustained in settings once thought impossible. Countries like Brazil, India, and South Africa, for example, have made astonishing strides. The MENA region is facing its own geopolitical and environmental challenges, which present security issues and divide communities. The fall of authoritarian regimes since the “Arab Spring” have, nonetheless, resulted in emergent democracies in Tunisia and Egypt.

Sound institutions and effective leadership are needed for these emergent democracies. Faculty at the MacMillan Center have an established record of studying post-conflict institution building and the theory and practice of democratic governance and development. Our Program on Democracy and our Program on Order, Conflict, and Violence already combine theoretical expertise with regional knowledge successfully in other parts of the world. The Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, located within the MacMillan Center, also gives visiting scholars an opportunity to work with students, faculty and others concerned with public policy and diplomacy issues. The Jackson Institute appoints several high-profile Senior Fellows to teach and mentor students each year and also brings to campus other high-profile public servants and government officials for engaging and insightful talks on current global affairs through its three speaker series which are open to visiting scholars. Recent senior fellows have included Marwan Muasher, a prominent Jordanian diplomat and politician, and Flynt Leverett, a leading authority on the Middle East and Persian Gulf, U.S. foreign policy and global energy affairs.

The Yale Middle East Visiting Scholar Program, an interdisciplinary program headed by Professor Ellen Lust in the Political Science Department, brings three visiting scholars to Yale each year who hail from different disciplines and countries but work on similar substantive or theoretical issues. It engages them in teaching, research, workshops and conferences. Visiting scholars are also encouraged to give talks and participate in conferences outside of the Yale/New Haven community. The program—piloted in 2007-2010—significantly advances Middle East Studies at home and abroad.

Yale faculty who collaborate regularly with colleagues in the Middle East and North Africa would benefit from expanded ties. These include scholars of economic growth, micro-finance and other mechanisms of indigenous capital-formation, trade policy, tax and regulatory policy, macroeconomic management and national/local judicial institutions. Several Yale faculty are keenly interested in policy and program delivery and the rigorous use of data analysis to evaluate policy effectiveness. They have been involved in collaborative teaching and research projects with MENA scholars, as well as leadership programs with members of MENA civil service, business and government sectors.

Among the likely projects would be research on MENA institutional reform conducted by core faculty. We also envision funding research trips and internships for students involved in studying and participating in institutional reform, and underwriting visits by leaders, scholars, and activists of the MENA region to speak at Yale.

2. Exchange Relationships with Universities in the Middle East and North Africa
A powerful and effective means to gain understanding of problems and identify and implement solutions is to make direct connections through faculty and student exchanges. Between 2007 and 2010, Yale’s Middle East Visiting Scholar Program brought in three MENA scholars each year to participate in Yale’s programs, including teaching, research, workshops and conferences. Participants include such impressive scholars as Shaul Mishal (Israel), Marwan Khawaja (Lebanon), Sallama Shaker (Egypt), Mine Eder (Turkey), and Lilia Labidi (Tunisia). In addition, the Yale World Fellows Program, now in its eleventh year, brings in one to three emerging leaders from the MENA region to contribute to informal learning and dialogue across campus. Recent participants include Muna AbuSulayman (Saudi Arabia), May Akl (Lebanon), Ali Hakin Altinay (Turkey), Gidon Bromberg (Israel), and Fares Mabrouk (Tunisia).

Yale has exchange programs with Tel Aviv University in Israel and Boğaziçi University in Turkey through our Fox International Fellowship program. We have an excellent but highly competitive visiting scholars program that enables us to host top faculty and post-doctoral fellows from around the world, most of whom teach while also doing their research and building their intellectual networks. We also husband precious resources to ensure doctoral and other students can conduct serious field work and master the languages needed to fully reflect ground truth in their research. Funds are sparser yet to host visiting graduate students.

New resources dedicated to the Middle East and North Africa would enable us to expand these already successful models, enhancing existing relationships and building similar connections with other universities in the Middle East and North Africa. Such funds would ensure that scholars from the Middle East and North Africa would be well-represented in the visiting scholar, field research and visiting graduate student awards that undergird serious exchange.

3. Studying Middle Eastern and North African Heritage and Culture —the Role of the Humanities
The history of Europe since the Second World War has shown that long-standing and seemingly unavoidable antagonisms between people can not only be overcome but also change into strong cultural bonds. The humanities play an important role in this process. Today, Germans welcome that major contributions to the study of their history come from British universities, for instance, while French high-school and university students learn the languages of their former arch-enemies and take part in frequent exchange programs. All this would have been impossible if the academic study of foreign cultures had not established a sincere and deep-rooted understanding and respect among the cultural elites of these countries. In the U.S. we often overlook the immense importance of respect for foreign cultures and its role in establishing peaceful relations with other nations and regions. Respect, however, can only result from knowing foreign cultures well.

Yale is fully committed to teaching and researching Arabic and its literature, as well as the history of the Middle East and North Africa and its culture. Yale was the first university in the U.S. to appoint a professor of Arabic (in 1841) and to establish a Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC). In 1861, it awarded the first PhD in Middle East Studies. Today, Yale has more than seven professors teaching and researching in the fields of Arabic language and literature, Middle East History, Islamic Studies, and Islamic Art. Yale is also committed to teaching Hebrew, Turkish, and Persian to the advanced level, has four professors in Egyptology and Assyriology, and a Program of Judaic Studies that is the envy of many other universities. The Council on Middle East Studies also provides instruction in other languages and dialects of the Middle East and North Africa through the Directed Independent Language Study program at the Yale Center for Language Study.

The Council of Middle East Studies administrates both an undergraduate major in Modern Middle East Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Middle East Studies. The study of language and culture are both central to this. Yale affords important opportunities through our strong Humanities departments (History, History of Art, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Comparative Literature, French, English) and professional schools in the arts (Drama, Music, Art, Architecture) and world-class museums and art galleries (with a significant, newly expanded Islamic Art collection).

Yale student groups regularly perform Middle Eastern music and dance in Yale’s theaters. There are an abundant number of student organizations, including the Arab Students' Association, the Muslim Students Association, Yale Friends of Israel, and Yale Friends of Turkey, that host campus gatherings ranging from conferences, debates on contemporary issues and discussions about ongoing development projects in which they are engaged. They also host awareness weeks and cultural events, and sponsor visits by leading journalists and academics.

New Middle East and North Africa-focused resources will enable us to strengthen language, cultural and humanities programs on campus and with universities and other institutions in the Middle East and North Africa such as museums. New resources will allow flexible, high quality and technologically innovative Middle East and North Africa language training as well as key field research, internship and study experience for students.

Funding Opportunities
In each of the three areas described above, the MacMillan Center seeks support, with a high level of flexibility, as follows:

Representative Faculty with Expertise in the Middle East and North Africa
Yale has a faculty that is notably well equipped to expand research on the challenges to sound governance in the Middle East and North Africa:

For further information contact:
Mr. Frank Griffel
Professor of Islamic Studies and
Chair of the Council on Middle East Studies
Yale University

Mailing address:
PO Box 208206
New Haven, CT 06520

Street address:
Rosenkranz Hall, 115 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Telephone: 203.436.5250
Fax: 203.432.6875