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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.

Border Politics: Bodies, Community, and Ecology (2023, UNC): What role do borders play in the production of difference, bodies, and communities? How does ecology enable, transform, or rework borders divisions? This conference seeks to explore borders as zones that both separate and connect different bodies, communities, and ecologies. Borders are central to the formation of self and Other and a key part of political structures that depend on the organization of bodies and communities. Yet, borders are rarely uniform or homogenous. Instead, they are continuously produced by a complex ecology of material and immaterial actors, including the state, surveillance technologies, physical landscape, migration policies, discourses about enemies and foreigners, people on the move, and archaeological objects. Rivers, border marking monuments, border patrol agents, seeds, and pieces of pottery from centuries ago shape borders and provide glimpses of different pasts. They also actively create the possibilities for new political futures. Border ecologies connect past and future and make possible different imaginations of borders.

“Materialist Thought and Jewish Culture” (2022, Duke): Recent years have seen a small revival of interest in materialist interpretation among scholars of Hebrew culture (and Jewish culture at large). A small, yet growing number of scholarly articles, edited volumes and monographs have sought to shed new light on the history of Jewish cultures and of their present moment through the prism of divergent modes of materialist approaches. This symposium seeks to bring together such approaches, interrogate them, and chart their contributions to our understanding of Jewish cultures, and of Israeli cultures in particular.

“Come Together: The Future of Arabic Language in North Carolina” (2021, UNC): This conference gathered educators, administrators, and other representatives from K-16 institutions all working to expand Arabic as a world language offering. The conference provided quality professional development to serve the needs of Arabic educators across K-16 levels as we navigate the similarities and differences between online and in-person learning. The event also generated connection and community among Arabic language teachers in North Carolina by serving as the inaugural event of the emerging North Carolina Arabic Teacher Council (NCATC).

“Revisiting Discourses of Love, Sex, and Desire in Modern Iran and Diaspora” (2020, UNC): This interdisciplinary symposium brought together a range of scholars  focusing on modern Iran to analyze the wide variety of ways in which love and desire have been represented, imagined, and discursively constructed. Participants addressed discourses of love and desire and revisited those discourses considering the implications that they have for larger theoretical debates.

“Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities” (2019, UNC): This conference shed light on the current realities in the Gaza Strip, giving participants a deeper understanding of the context of these realities and offering concrete options that can better the lives of Gazans. The conference also highlighted Gazan culture–music, films, food, and art–to showcase the beauty that goes along with the challenges of life in the Gaza Strip. Conference report.

“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.