J. Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at JMU, will help lead a new professional academic association, The Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa.
The association's goal is to promote high standards of teaching and learning in the Middle East and Africa.
"We wanted to respond to the mounting interest in these increasingly inter-related fields of Middle East studies and African studies, and the absence of any single group addressing them in a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary fashion," Pham said.
Dr. Bernard Lewis, the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton University, is considered one of the world's leading authorities on the Middle East and will chair the new organization.
"Because of various political and financial pressures and inducements, the study of the Middle East and of Africa has been politicized to a degree without precedent, Lewis said. "Given the importance of these regions, there is an acute need for objective and accurate scholarship and debate."
Through newsletters, debates, journals and annual conferences the association hopes to improve the education of the next generation of scholars and leaders without entrenched alliances and interests.
"Current events remind us of how these two regions have historically and remain very much linked," Pham said. "We discerned a need to encourage and promote the scholarly and dispassionate study, through multiple disciplines, of these important and so often misrepresented geopolitical spaces."
The establishment of the ASMEA will not only affect professionals abroad — it could benefit JMU students on a scholarly level as well.
"My vice presidency at ASMEA, like other colleagues' leadership service with other organizations, is a recognition not only of the quality of teachers at JMU, but also of the university's supportive environment for our scholarship," Pham said.
Besides being vice-president of the ASMEA, Pham also holds an academic appointment as an associate professor of justice studies, political science and African studies and is the author of two books, "Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy" and "Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State."
Pham has written over two hundred scholarly and opinion articles about contemporary Africa and the continent's importance in U.S. foreign policy. Prior to joining JMU in 2004, Pham served as a diplomat in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
ASMEA's inaugural conference will take place in April 2008. The conference theme, "The Evolution of Islamic Politics in the Middle East and Africa: From Traditional Limits to Modern Extremes," seeks to better explain the roots and future of politics in Islamic societies in those regions.
Officers of the ASMEA include Dr. Mark T. Clark, director of the National Security Studies Program at California State University-San Bernardino, an Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence, who will serve as president, and Dr. Joseph Morrison Skelly, associate professor of history at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, Riverdale, N.Y., and a decorated veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as secretary-treasurer.