The Distinguished Visitor program supports a one- to two-week residency for a visitor whose work engages the Middle East North Africa region via any discipline or historical period.  The Distinguished Visitor must have a record of excellence and recognition in any field, including and not limited to research areas within the academy, creative fields (such as art and literature), social entrepreneurship, and diplomacy.


The Center for Middle Eastern Studies accepts nominations for the Distinguished Visitor appointment from UC Berkeley faculty only. Proposals must include a brief summary of the candidate’s contributions, value to Berkeley’s faculty and students, potential for interdisciplinary engagements on campus, and the ability to address broad and pressing issues that have public visibility. Please ascertain the nominee’s availability before nominating him/her. Please also include a copy of nominee’s C.V. and specific courses, working groups, workshops, symposia etc. in which he/she could fruitfully participate at UCB.

The deadline for nominations for the Spring 2020 Distinguished Visitor is June 1, 2019. Nominations may be submitted directly to CMES Chair Emily Gottreich.


At a minimum, Distinguished Visitors are expected to:

  • Deliver a public lecture at the CMES
  • Offer a masterclass for graduate students
  • Attend relevant graduate seminars and/or working groups
  • Hold office hours at the CMES


Distinguished Visitors will hold a one- to two- week residency at UC Berkeley.

Financial Support:

The CMES will cover the cost of travel, lodging, event-related meals, and will offer the visitor an honorarium of $1,000.


Spring 2019 Distinguished Visitor: Robert G. Morrison, Religion Department, Bowdoin College


Spring 2018 Distinguished Visitor: Ella Shohat, Department of Art & Public Policy and Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, New York University

Public Lecture: “The Question of Judeo-Arabic: Nation, Partition, and the Linguistic Imaginary”

This lecture examines linguistic belonging as invented within national and colonial itineraries. More specifically, it explores the genealogy of the concept of “Judeo-Arabic language” and its axiomatic definition as a cohesive (specifically Jewish) unit separate from Arabic, and classifiable under the historically novel rubric of isolatable “Jewish languages” severed from their neighboring dialect/languages. Does the notion of “Judeo-Arabic” correspond to the designation by the speakers of that language themselves or rather to a paradigm influenced by post-Enlightenment Judaic studies and Jewish nationalism? And in the wake of the colonial partition of Palestine / Israel and the displacement from Arabic-speaking cultural geographies, how should we regard the salvage project for an “endangered Judeo-Arabic?” What are the phantasmatic aspects of a conceptual framework that has left a linguistic practice both rejected and desired?

Office Hours Sign-ups: April 20th 9 AM – 12 PM


Spring 2017 Distinguished Visitor: James Gelvin, Department of History, UCLA

Public Lecture: “Obama’s Legacy in the Middle East”

Although Barack Obama’s much maligned Middle East strategy has often been panned as “unimaginative,” “feckless,” and even “nonexistent,” another word might be more appropriate: daring. Obama’s “back to the future” policy was an attempt to reverse America’s post-cold war habit of direct intervention into the region, which both liberal internationalists and neo-conservatives had championed. Instead, he advocated returning to the cold war policy of backing regional surrogates who might be depended upon to police the Middle East for mutual benefit—a policy which assured American dominance in the region for half a century. If the United States were to return to that policy, Obama believed, it would not only be able to lighten its footprint in the Middle East, it would be able to focus its attention on the region that is destined to become the fulcrum of international politics and economics in the twenty-first century: the Far East and the Pacific Rim. This lecture will examine why changing the course of American Middle East policy proved more difficult than Obama had anticipated, and the successes he gained and setbacks he suffered in the region during his two terms in office.


Spring 2016 Distinguished Visitor: Gil Anidjar, Columbia University

Public Lecture: “Sparta and Gaza”

Athens and Jerusalem: There is perhaps no more concise way of understanding the political tradition of which we see ourselves the inheritors: democracy and individualism, human rights. It is an active and proactive tradition, a tradition of power and rule, of political activity which makes and remakes the political subject, the political community. In this lecture, Prof. Anidjar will raise the question of weapons (akin to, but not identical with, the question of war) in order to consider another face of that tradition, another trajectory: Sparta and Gaza.

Masterclass: “Oversight (On the Subject of Surveillance)”

Working Group:  Secularism Townsend Graduate Working Group: Reading and Method