Founded in 1954, the Middle East Institute (MEI) supports Columbia University’s world-class programs on the Middle East and North Africa.
The central mission of the Middle East Institute (MEI), in accord with its long-established institutional duties and responsibilities, is to foster an interdisciplinary, inter-departmental approach to university needs in order to enhance Columbia’s world-class Middle East program.
The in-house programming of the MEI includes its Brown Bag Lunch Series, Halaqa ʿArabiyya (Arabic Circle) and Sharīʿa Workshop. Additionally, the Institute supports the initiatives of faculty, students and visiting scholars and it partners with counterparts across Columbia and in New York City.
Among the faculty and student initiatives, in the Spring of 2017, the MEI sponsored two multisession conferences, "Adab as an Interdisciplinary Pursuit," organized by Professor Muhsin al-Musawi and "Rediscovering Words & Worlds: Arabic Script Collections at Columbia University," organized by a group of graduate students. The Spring semester brought the launch of the Jerusalem Project, a research and learning tool on the past and future of Jerusalem by the Center for Palestine.
In another recent development, the MEI has begun to share administrative responsibility with the Institute for African Studies for Ifriqiyya, the interdisciplinary faculty colloquium on pre-colonial Africa founded in 2010 by Professor Mahmood Mamdani. Unique to Columbia, the monthly Ifriqiyya seminar also is based on pre-circulated papers by leading scholars, and the substantive focus frequently is upon Muslim communities and Islamic phenomena. Ifriqiyya has developed research networks on specific topics, such as “Trans-African Slaveries” and “The Indian Ocean Before Western Colonization.”
The institute has encouraged other faculty initiatives. Since his appointment at Columbia, Professor Avinoam Shalem of the Department of Art History has developed various annual lecture series in the Islamic arts such as, in Fall 2015, “Islamic Art: Disrupting Unity and Discerning Ruptures,” which was co-sponsored by the MEI. Professor Marwa Elshakry developed a series on “Rethinking Arabic Canons: Critical Conversations,” the inaugural workshop of which was last spring. Created as a “multidisciplinary conversation between established and emerging scholars of the Arabic humanities about the historical construction of a classical Arabic canon and heritage (turāth),” the series will comprise future sessions on such specialized topics as Arab science, Islamic law, Qur’an exegesis, etc.
In a different type of collaboration that is both university-wide and of general public significance, the MEI is involved in the Columbia President’s “World Leaders Forum” partnering also with the IRCPL. In 2014, a major Tunisian figure Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda, the governing Islamist political party in Tunisia, appeared in various campus forums. In one, Ghannouchi spoke on “Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World.” Continuing in this specific line of interest in Tunisian leaders and public intellectuals, the university, with the MEI again participating, in the spring of 2017, hosted the noted political figure and public intellectual Yadh Ben Achour in an extended residence.
With the launch of the three year project of the Center for the Study of Social Difference (CSSD) on “Religion and the Global Framing of Gender Violence,” co-directed by Professor Lila Abu-Lughod in collaboration with colleagues from the region, new opportunities will arise for programming and workshops that enhance the study of the Middle East at Columbia. The three-year initiative, supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, will mobilize the collective experience, expertise, and creativity of an international group of critical feminist scholars, practitioners, activists, and journalists, to explore the role of religion in naming, framing, and governing gender violence, with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia.
The MEI - a recipient of the federal Title VI grant - is committed to supporting K-14 teachers with resources, training, and knowledge to best teach and educate their students about the Middle East. MEI is particularly focused on supporting high-need areas of New York City and its surrounding suburbs.
The faculty members currently identified for the new MA Program at the MEI span the departments, schools and other units of the university. In this manner, the MEI is encouraging and facilitating the creation of an important intellectual network at the university, one involving unrealized connections and unengaged strengths. Promoting a broadly conceived and inter-regional Islamic Studies across the university will entail efforts to highlight and advance the work of dispersed scholars and projects and to offer opportunities for collaborations, support and interdisciplinary inquiry. In seeking to provide a university-wide venue for discussions in Islamic Studies, the MEI will offer a centralized forum, a lecture series and a bulletin.
Launched in 2010, the Center for Palestine Studies (CPS) promotes the academic study of Palestine by supporting research, teaching, and intellectual collaboration among scholars within Columbia University and beyond.