Focusing on the Arab World

Despite upheaval in the Middle East, Harvard continues to lack regional experts

As chair of NELC, Asani says that he has prioritized building an undergraduate concentration on the contemporary Middle East. He said in an email to The Crimson that while the University has served as a “leading center for Middle East studies since the 1950s,” it lacks undergraduate opportunities. “NELC is attempting to expand its coverage of the modern periods,” he explains.

In the past, NELC has focused on the ancient Middle East and relied on faculty in other departments to teach topics related to the modern region, he says.

Asani says he is optimistic that the department will offer a full concentration by next year.

Although Asani says the development of a secondary field was not inspired by the recent political unrest, the secondary may help accommodate the renewed interest in the region. He says that Zeghal’s hiring—bringing her from the University of Chicago’s Divinity School—has served as “an extra impetus” for constructing the undergraduate path that focuses on the region.

But professors say FAS still lacks senior faculty members in modern Middle East politics, particularly in the Government Department.


“We have tried to hire [contemporary Middle East professors], but thus far without success,” Levitsky says. “It is really a shame.”


As NELC continues to develop its undergraduate offerings, individual faculty members across FAS say that the recent Arab upheaval will inevitably guide their course curricula.

Government Professor Grzegorz Ekiert says he spent the “entire semester discussing revolts in the region” in his new course, Government 1115: “Protests and Politics in Comparative Perspective.”

History professor Roy P. Mottahedeh ’60, chair of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies program, notes that his “bread and butter teaching is before the 1500s.” But he says even he plans to alter his course on Islamic political thought to reflect the recent protests.

“We are thinking about what is happening in the broader world,” FAS Dean Michael D. Smith says. “We are always evaluating what to provide in our college curriculum.”

—Staff writer Barbara B. DePena can be reached at

—Staff writer Sirui Li can be reached at


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