In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, military engagement in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq, the need for reliable, policy-relevant scholarship on the Middle East has become more critical than ever.
To address this need, Brandeis has announced it will establish a Center for Middle East Studies, scheduled to open in October 2004. The University has raised $20 million for the research center: two-thirds of its $30 million goal.
"The goal is to create a new kind of Middle East center," said President Joseph Reinharz, "one that will significantly broaden scholarship of the region by promoting research on the history, politics, economics, religions, cultures and institutions of the entire area from the Arab world and Israel, Turkey and Iran."
While the current conflicts in the Middle East will be an important focus of research and teaching at Brandeis, the defining goal of the new center is to expand study beyond topics of Arab-Israeli tensions to include economic development, ethnic relations and social and geopolitical questions in the region. At the moment, no single institution of higher education in the United States provides such a breadth of study of the Middle East.
The center's academic mission will be balanced between research and teaching, producing new insights on the understanding of the region and providing the highest level of training for future generations of scholars. The University envisions the center as a vital national resource that will analyze Middle East economic, political and cultural developments, generate policy ideas, and offer a forum for interaction between academia and the world of public policy.
Building on existing resources
The opportunity to create a Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis is a logical extension of the University's long-standing efforts to understand the region in a nuanced manner. The center will build in exhisting programs and faculty covering the ancient Near East, the modern Middle East, Christian and Islamic studies, and the range of Jewish experience from biblical times to present-day world Jewry. It will provide an umbrella for several recently endowed chairs in Middle East studies: the Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Chair in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, held by Kanan Makiya, the Baghdad-born dissident who is co-drafting a blueprint for a democratic postwar Iraq; the Karl, Harry and Helen Stoll Chair in Israel Studies, held by Ilan Troen, who is also a faculty member at Ben Gurion University of the Negev; the Myra and Robert Kraft Chair in Arab Politics, and will enlarge on the work of professors such as Avigdor Levy and Yitzhak Nakash, distinguished scholars of Middle East studies. In addition, the center will draw on the University's wide-ranging expertise in the departments of history, politics, anthropology and sociology, as well as the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, the International Business School, and the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.
Bringing these intersecting resources together under the rubric of a single research center will bolster our understanding of the social, historical, economic and political background of this complicated region, laying the foundation for policy making that stretches beyond current ideological and military conflicts.
Jonathan Sarna '75, M.A. '75, the Joseph H. and Belle Braun professor of American Jewish history, is heading a search for the center's first director. Bernard Lewis, Cleveland E. Dodge professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at Princeton and one of the world's most foremost authorities on the Middle East, will serve as an advisor to the search committee and new center.