Annual Conference

Each year, the Consortium organizes a high-profile conference on a theme in Middle East studies. These annual conferences bring together experts from across the country. Please see below for a listing of past conferences.


“YASAK/BANNED: Print Media and Cultural Spaces from Abdülhamid to Erdogan” (2018, Duke): This conference examined the socio-political evolution and cultural representation in the late Ottoman Empire and Republican Turkey with strong emphasis on interdisciplinary scholarship on print media and cultural spaces.

“Islam and Religious Identity: The Limits of Definition” (2017, UNC): The conference on “Islam and Religious Identity” invited presentations on the problem of representing examples of religious behavior, community, or faith that fall outside of conventional expectations. This conference was conceived as a multidisciplinary event drawing on the disciplines of religious studies, history, literature, and anthropology. This event was one of two conferences held in conjunction with the 2016-2017 season of Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The CPA season included a festival on Sufism titled “Sacred/Secular: A Sufi Journey.”

“WWI & The Transformation of the Middle East” (2016, UNC): The aftermath of World War I transformed the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire, with its rich linguistic, religious and ethnic variety, was divided into a collection of small states, each with its own ruling group under the control of European powers. New borders dislocated long-established trading networks, separated family and tribal collectives, and required the creation of new “national” consciousness. This conference explored the consequences of World War I in the region, focusing on the creation of this new state system and the new exclusionary identities that were required to turn Ottomans into Syrians, Iraqis, Jordanians, and Turks.

“Rethinking Global Cities” (2015, Duke): Six conference panels of invited experts focused on Curation, Infrastructure, Margins, Global Cities/Local Histories, City/Novel/Film, and the Middle Eastern City. International experts were joined by Duke faculty with research interests in specific global cities that represent the core of this critical humanities conference: Bangkok (Ara Wilson); Beijing/Shanghai (Ralph Litzinger); Cape Town/Johannesburg (Anne-Maria Makhulu); Doha/Dubai (miriam cooke); Istanbul (Erdağ Göknar); Sao Paulo/Medellín (Miguel Rojas-Sotelo); Taipei/Hong Kong (Guo-Juin Hong); Tokyo (Gennifer Weisenfeld); and Vienna (Malachi Hacohen).

“Arts of Revolution in the Middle East” (2014, Duke): In the 21st century, youth movements in the Arab world, Iran and Turkey have created communities of protest that cross national lines and form tribal cosmopolitan alliances based on shared political and aesthetic norms. Musicians, artists and writers are beginning to question their former skepticism about the ability of the word and the image to bring about political change. Whether or not we like the current state of affairs in the Middle East, it demonstrates that graffiti, rap, street theater, film and popular literature have helped to mobilize unprecedented street action. In this conference, participants and performers addressed the relationship between politics and aesthetics, their cosmopolitan synergy, and the democratic potential of popular forms of expression.

“ReOrienting the Veil” (2013, UNC): The 2013 Duke-UNC Consortium Conference focused on Muslim women’s veiling practices in transnational contexts. The one and a half day conference was a forum for an interdisciplinary discussion of the cultural, religious, historical and political meanings of the Muslim headscarf.

“Arab Springs: Revolution and Repression” (2012, Duke): Beginning in January 2011, a wave of broad based revolts in the Arab world ruptured the political status quo at national, regional, and international levels. The world watched as activists toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. Demands for change spread to other countries, including Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Morocco,and Jordan, among others. This conference addressed questions, relevant well beyond the Arab world, as to what kind of “other world,” politically and economically, might be possible at this world historical moment.

“Human Rights in Islam: The Politics of Cultural Translation” (2011, UNC): The conference was organized in conjunction with the related course “Human Rights in Islam” (AMES 195S/252S). Presentations included Lila Abu-Lughod, professor of anthropology and women and gender studies, Columbia University, “Do Muslim Women Have Rights?”; Abdullahi an-Na’im, professor of law, Emory University, “Human Rights, Universality, and Sovereignty: Relevance and Irrelevance of Shari’a.”; Sherman Jackson, professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, University of Michigan, “Western Muslims and Human Rights: An Alternative Framework?”; and Arzoo Osanloo, professor of anthropology, University of Washington, “Don’t Just Ask the Devil: Human Rights and Forgiveness in Iran.”

“Nationalists and Salafis” (2010, UNC): Sessions during this conference included: Sam Dolbee, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, “Building National Bodies: Sport in Late Mandate Syria, 1933-1939.”; Lisa Pollard, professor of history, UNC-W, “Egyptian by Association: The State and its Societies, 1885-1950.”; Ellen McLarney, professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies, Duke University, “Safinaz Kazim: Submission to Islam and the Subject of Self.”; and Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology, UNC-CH, “The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists”, among others.

“Global Economy, Islam, and Capitalism” (2009, UNC): Speakers included: Caglar Keyder, professor of sociology, SUNY-Binghamton, “Space and Exclusion in the Global City”; James Gelvin, professor of history, UCLA, “The Rise and Fall of the Populist State in the Middle East From the Perspective of Global Political Economy”; Valentine Moghadam, professor of sociology, Purdue, “Between Globalization And Family Law: Negotiating Women’s Economic Citizenship In The Middle East And North Africa”; and Cihan Tugal, professor of sociology, UC Berkeley, “Party-in-society: The AKP and the Transition to Neoliberal Islam in Turkey.”

“Marketing Muslim Women” (2008, Duke): The conference aimed to provide a forum to explore how gender is constructed and contested in Islamic tradition and how certain images circulate both within and beyond Muslim cultures; to bring Islamic studies scholars into conversation with those in other fields whose work may not focus on Islam or the Muslim world but who share research interests in gender, culture, and power; and to appeal to faculty, students, and community members and offer them opportunities for different levels and styles of engagement with these issues.