Starting in the 2020 academic year, the Center of Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) will institute a general framework of inquiry that will facilitate coherent programming in support of our mission, while being maximally diverse and inclusive. The University of California, Berkeley, is home to some of the leading scholars of Middle Eastern Studies who investigate the region from a range of intersecting perspectives—anthropological, historical, philological, artistic, literary, legal, political, religious, and so on. What is generally common to such Berkeley scholarship is critical inquiry into the very posited and confining categories of analysis that structure our disciplines. In crossing imagined borders—between Islamic and western philosophy, Byzantium and Islam, the Ottoman empire and Europe, critical and literary theory, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologies, Middle Eastern and global art, Iran and South Asia, the region and the diaspora, the social and written text, the medieval and the modern, and between modes of expression—our scholars and students expose the weakness of arguments that sustain demarcations.
In future programming, the CMES aims to bring together scholars and students from within and outside the campus to continue to explore the conceptual categories that confine the production of knowledge in Middle Eastern Studies. Through a reconsideration of the boundary-making practices that have shaped the Middle East as an object of practical and conceptual knowledge, our goal is to open up an exploration of geographies and histories that remain unrecognizable from within the categories and epistemologies of western social scientific and humanistic thought. Our work will help us in answering two related questions: What was/is the construct of the Middle East? How do we transcend the borders of Middle Eastern Studies, both internally and externally?
Forthcoming programming will fit within one of two broad rubrics under the framework: Geographies and Temporalities. In the former, we will explore the intersecting loci of disciplines, empires, the global and regional, faiths, languages, the secular and ecclesiastical, and so on. In the latter, we will test periodization, causalities, the evental and linear, historiography, historicity, authenticity, and so on. Within (and across) both rubrics, our activities in the form of lectures, panels, colloquia, interviews, conversations, screenings, exhibitions, and conferences will ultimately aim to complicate received categories of analysis.