The Middle East & Islam in Global Contexts


The Middle East & Islam in Global Contexts cluster offers students a multi-disciplinary approach (public policy, history, and documentary studies) for analyzing important case studies involving the Middle East and Islam.

Countries of the Middle East, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Yemen, and Turkey, are of crucial significance to America’s global involvement. Recent crises in the Middle East along with historical processes of cultural and demographic exchange have highlighted the relevance of Middle Eastern peoples and cultures within America too. A sound understanding of the cultural and political dynamics of this crucially important region is a must for any responsible citizen of the world and the relevance of that understanding for American citizens has been increasing since the end of the Cold War.

In this FOCUS cluster, Professor Mustafa Tuna employs a historiographical approach to dissect the historical and cultural trends that underlie modern Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy agenda. Professor David Schanzer utilizes public policy theories to examine how governments weigh policy solutions to issues such as terrorism, Islamist political movements, and international relations in the Middle East. Professor Nancy Kalow combines oral history and film studies concepts to provide insight into the roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The distinct, yet overlapping, theoretical models used in each FOCUS class will contribute to fruitful weekly Interdisciplinary Discussion Course (IDC) dinner discussions as students engage with invited subject experts in the field. The IDC meetings will also provide an opportunity for students to explore academic and career opportunities related to area studies and international affairs. Several Middle East-related events are listed for each week of the semester.

The Middle East & Islam in Global Contexts cluster will be of particular interest to students interested in majors or minors in Public Policy, History, International Comparative Studies, Documentary Studies, Religion, Slavic & Eurasian Studies, and Asian & Middle Eastern Studies as well as those interested in careers in international relations, consulting, public policy or foreign service and diplomacy. Beyond these more specific areas of concentration, however, the cultural literacy that close engagement with such a crucial area of the world benefits students who aspire for all career prospects that require intense social skills, including the medical and business sectors.

Duke offers several study abroad options to students wishing to pursue the study of the Middle East and Islam outside the United States. These include Duke in the Arab World (a six-week summer program currently based in Morocco) and DukeEngage immersive service programs in Lebanon and Jordan.


Seminar: AMES 204FS — Documenting the Middle East: Oral History, Identity, and Community

Nancy Kalow, Instructor for the Center for Documentary Studies

Students in this course will study the documentary record of the Middle East in photography, film, and oral history. We will begin with studio photography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and conclude with recent community-based, experimental, and student documentary production. How do communities document themselves, and why are social media, politics of representation, and aesthetics important in analyzing documentary research? The class includes a hands-on documentary component. We will learn best practices of documentary work and the nuts-and-bolts of audio recording, interviewing, transcribing, writing field notes, and editing. The documentary approach favors an open-ended and non-invasive interview process, in which interviewees offer deep reflections on their lives, historical events, and community or cultural traditions. Fieldwork from the class will be permanently housed at Duke's Archive of Documentary Arts. No prerequisites.

Seminar: AMES FS- Literary Islam (ALP, CZ, CCI)

Ellen McLArney, Associate Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

A broad overview of the most essential elements of the Islamic literary tradition. Begins with pre-Islamic poetry and how it framed the emergence of the Qur'an, hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), and the early Islamic community. Looks at the early Meccan verses of the Qur'an in comparison to with the later Madinan ones. Traces intertwined oral and scriptural traditions, hadith science and biographical literature, poetry and philosophy, mysticism and rationalism, belles lettres and adab, satire and vernacular literature. Ends with modern takes on classic genres and sources.

Seminar: PubPol 190FS — 9/11, Islam, and the Modern Middle East (EI, SS)

David Schanzer, Associate Professor of the Practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy and Director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security

The attacks of September 11, 2001, were a seminal moment in modern history. They demonstrated the ability of non-state actors to inflict serious damage on the world’s greatest superpower and exposed the vulnerability of the entire global community to catastrophic acts of terrorism. This course explores the origins of this attack, the response of the United States, and the global implications of this long-term, continuous conflict. This inquiry includes discussions of the history of the modern Middle East, the rise Islamist political movements, and the ideology of violent extremist organizations such as al Qaeda and ISIS. Students will learn about the development of U.S. counterterrorism strategy, including uses of force in many Middle Eastern countries, targeted killings using armed drones, expansion of electronic communications surveillance at home and abroad, homeland security, and efforts to prevent acts of homegrown violent extremism.

Faculty Director

Ellen McLarney
  • Associate Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
2204 Erwin Road Room 226
(919) 668-3849