Historic and contemporary issues impacting the study and knowledge of the region formed the backdrop for the inaugural Middle East Conference, which took place on February 6 and 7.
The conference, held online, was the first such international forum organised by the Middle Eastern Studies Department (MESD) at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), and examined 'Knowledge and Power in Middle East Studies: Regional and International Perspectives'.
In an opening keynote address, Professor Marwan Kraidy, dean and CEO, Northwestern University in Qatar, reflected on the Middle East as a nexus of different historical and contemporary forces that continue to shape relationships within the region and beyond.
Welcoming remarks by Professor Hassan Hakimian, Conference chair and MESD director, and Dr Amal al-Malki, founding dean of CHSS, highlighted the significance of the inaugural Middle East Conference, to address gaps, norms and emerging trends, noting that knowledge of the region has been historically fraught with uneven and conflicting perspectives.
The programme continued with two in-depth panel discussions. Dr Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor at MESD, CHSS, chaired the panel, 'Transnational Dynamics and International Politics: How are Evolving Big Power Politics Impacting the Middle East?'.
Speakers addressed international foreign policies towards the region, transnational movements and changing regional alliances and patterns of behavior. Discussions covering a breadth of issues were moderated by Dr Steven Wright, associate dean for Student Affairs, CHSS.
Chaired by Professor George Mikros, MESD, CHSS, a panel titled 'Analysing the Mena Social Dynamics Using NLP and Big Data Methods', featured expert presentations on news consumption in time of conflict, labelling multilingual Covid-19 tweets, and understanding the Arab region from social media.
Presentations considered whether understanding the Qur'an posed a challenge for artificial intelligence, as well as religious polarisation in Arab online communities. The discussion was moderated by Dr Wajdi Zaghouani, assistant professor in Digital Humanities, CHSS.
Panels on February 7 addressed 'Society, Cities, and Space in the Mena Region' and 'Knowledge and Power in Palestine: The Quest for Statehood and the Marginalisation of Rights', with eminent speakers from Boston University, UMass Boston, Birzeit University, Syracuse University and Exeter, among others.
After the conference, Professor Hassan Hakimian, director of MESD at CHSS, said: “The need to address current challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa was the main motivation for this gathering of renowned scholars who took a fresh look at factors shaping the evolution of Middle Eastern studies. We hope that our first conference will contribute to new research, innovative methods, and fresh perspectives that can enrich the field through region-wide, cross-disciplinary academic collaborations.”
MESD currently offers two MA Programmes in Women, Society and Development and in Digital Humanities and Societies, and is home to a dedicated group of scholars studying the Middle East and North Africa region in its various complexities. Faculty sharing their expertise on the organising committee are Dr Carol Fadda, Professor George Mikros, Dr Dana M Olwan, Dr Marc Owen Jones, Dr Sophie Richter-Devroe, Dr Steven Wright, and Dr Wajdi Zaghouani. The college is accepting applications to its academic graduate programmes until March 15.