The Government Department has not had a Middle East expert in its ranks since visiting Professor Emad Shahin left in 2009, and has not had a tenured position in the field since Nadav Safran retired about 20 years ago.
The department has approached the study of the region through a theoretical lens that draws upon its experts in fields like democratization and political movements.
Government Professor Steven R. Levitsky, a comparative political scientist, says that he will include material on the contemporary Middle East in his popular course, Government 20: “Introduction to Comparative Politics.”
“Gov 20 now includes a lecture on the Iranian revolution, a lecture on the prospects for democratization in post-Hussein Iraq, half a lecture on authoritarian stability in the Middle East, and part of a lecture on consociationalism in Lebanon,” he says. “There will be additional material on democratization in the Middle East.”
But he says that a Middle East expert would be an important addition to the department.
“Our inability in [the Government Department] to hire a Middle East expert has been a real problem,” he says.
Some professors say that the focus on theoretical studies does not offer a comprehensive understanding of the issue, particularly for undergraduates.
“If you want people to be theoretically informed, that’s fine,” Granara says. “Undergraduates need to learn the nuts and bolts of modern Arab politics, and they won’t necessarily find that in theory.”
Eva R. Bellin ’80 was assistant professor of government at Harvard before she accepted a position at Hunter College in 2003. Although hailed as an “expert” of contemporary Middle East studies by former colleagues at Harvard, Bellin says that she left because she did not expect to be offered tenure at the University.
“To be hired in a tenured position at Harvard you have to be an undisputed star in your discipline,” says Bellin, now a professor at Brandeis University.
Political scientists who study the contemporary Middle East face obstacles that “make it difficult to put together a portfolio that would establish the scholar as an undisputed star,” she says.
In addition to the challenging research environment and the difficulty of the Arabic language, Bellin notes that these scholars must be able to consider various methodologies within an already specialized discipline.
“Unfortunately the field of political science is divided along political and methodological grounds and this makes it doubly hard to build consensus around what constitutes excellent scholarship,” Bellin says.
MEETING UNDERGRAD DEMAND
This May, NELC announced that it would offer a Middle East Studies secondary field as an experiment and potential precursor to a new concentration in the fall. Professors hope that the new secondary concentration will accommodate the growing undergraduate interest in the region.
Government Department Lacks Scholar Specializing In Middle Eastern StudiesHarvard’s Government Department remains without an expert in the field of Middle Eastern political science.
Cambridge Schools Consider ReformsA proposal to separate middle schools from elementary schools in the Cambridge Public System—known as the “Innovation Agenda”—will be discussed by the School Committee meeting on March 8, a week before it is scheduled to come up for a vote.
Comics Artists Discuss IslamThis Friday, April 29, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Center for Middle Eastern Studies will host “Islam, the ...
NELC Expands Degree OptionsThe Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) will offer a secondary field in Middle East studies this fall, creating the first undergraduate program focusing exclusively on the study of the modern Middle East.
Modern Middle East Studies Secondary Field AnnouncedLast May, as the Middle East played host to a surge of pro-democracy protests and civil unrest, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations announced the creation of a new undergraduate Modern Middle East Studies secondary field, an initiative that had been in the works for many years.
NELC To Offer Two New Concentration OptionsAfter discussion earlier this spring, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations has decided to offer a new concentration track beginning in fall 2012 focused on the history, politics, and cultures of the contemporary Middle East.