Middle East in the Contemporary World

Lund University’s attentiveness to what today is called the Middle East goes back to its founding in 1666 with a main focus on Semitic languages and Religious studies. Since then interest in the region has increased and research concerning the Middle East is currently conducted across all faculties at Lund University.

Many factors play into why the region named the Middle East is an important area to study and comprehend: its significance in the history of human civilization; its conflict-ridden recent history which is a pressing global matter; its important role as a strategic trade partner; scarce water resources in the region, which are one of the future’s greatest environmental challenges; its richness in oil and gas resources and general role in the world economy; its closeness to Europe and the migration between the regions. In addition, in our research we consider the term “The Middle East” to be conceptualized in a manner in which it contains transnational movements, migration and communities with links to, but outside, the geographical Middle East. All of these issues are at the core of the research conducted at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

In order to address the reasons for studying the Middle East mentioned above, and to coordinate research at Lund University, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) was inaugurated in 2007. The funding of a Strategic Research Area (SRA), entitled the Middle East in the Contemporary World (MECW), in 2009 made it possible for scholars at Lund University to develop a new and dynamic research environment that was merged with CMES, physically as well as academically. Through these first years, MECW has been able to take a leading role in coordinating, redirecting and expanding research on the Middle East at Lund University and nationally. Moreover, in a short period of time we have become a leading research institution in Europe. The directive for the SRA funding, specifically to create strong research environments, enabled us to create a common, unified and cross-disciplinary milieu in one physical building.

This organization of MECW in one physical environment has been immensely important for the productivity of ideas and outputs – and it is our strong intention to preserve and develop this structure. From a national and international perspective, the funding has enabled us to conduct research, organize conferences, do fieldwork, and also to organize a network in the Middle East and support scholars at other universities. MECW created a platform for Middle Eastern studies that pushed the quality of the field forward, and it has created competition and increased interest in Middle Eastern studies at Swedish universities. The first five years of SRA funding were evaluated during 2014 and 2015. The result presented by a committee of international scholars clearly valued our efforts and gave the Center for Middle Eastern Studies an evaluation considering our research and other activities as of excellent quality.

Since the evaluation was presented by Swedish research agencies in late spring 2015 our research profile has gradually moved towards the strengthening of a unique cross-disciplinary approach. The contact between scholars from a variety of disciplines in one environment has contributed immensely to creative thinking on method and theory among scholars, but has also been an empirical learning experience. The idea to coordinate, redirect and expand research on the Middle East has improved the overall quality of research. The creation of an SRA has been tremendously important for scholars and without the SRA funding we would not have been able to create this new and cross-disciplinary research environment. The completion of the first five years of funding has made scholars at the Center for Middle Eastern studies to reflect on their ongoing research and as a result we have jointly formulated four new themes for research at the CMES. The themes are:

-(A) Democratization and social development in the Middle East

-(B) Migration, multicultural societies and minorities in the Middle East

-(C) Environment and Sustainable Development in the Middle East

-(D) Religion, Processes of Interpretation and Identity Formation in the Middle East.

It is important to note that these themes have elements that overlap and are therefore open to trans- or interdisciplinary investigation. For example, work related to our Visioning Labs for Syria (see below) cuts through several of the key themes such as sustainability, democratization and migration. We consider this potential of crossfertilization between different disciplines and academic traditions a positive aspect of our work and envisaged contribution to the Study of the Middle East.

Annual Reports