CCAS was honored to host two American Druze Foundation Research Fellows during the 2020-2021 academic year: Dr. Ziad Abu-Rish and Dr. Daniel Neep. Abu-Rish is an historian of the modern Middle East and North Africa. In addition to being an ADF Fellow, he is Co-Director of the MA Program in Human Rights and the Arts at Bard College. This year as an ADF fellow, he taught the inaugural course on “Race and Ethnicity in the Modern MENA.” Neep is a political scientist who specializes in the politics of Syria. He was previously Assistant Professor at CCAS and has taught at the University of Exeter, School of Oriental & African Studies, London School of Economics, and Georgetown University – Qatar. This year as an ADF fellow, he taught the course “Politics of Syria.”
On Saturday, April 24, CCAS hosted a virtual panel discussion with both fellows about how the ADF fellowship at Georgetown is opening up new avenues for knowledge production about ethnicity and minorities in the Arab World. During the panel, Neep outlined two ways in which minorities in the Arab World are highlighted in teaching at CCAS: in specially-designed, thematic courses devoted to minority issues, and in generalist courses on politics, society, and history into which discussions of minorities are integrated in holistic fashion. Neep noted that the question of minorities was prominent in political science in the 1990s, but since then is more commonly addressed with the concept of “ethnicity,” which encompasses a range of identities based on kinship, sect, culture, class, and geography. Neep gave examples from his graduate seminar on the politics of Syria, which highlights the importance of understanding the role of the Druze, Alawis, Kurds and other groups in Syrian society, both historically and today.
During his remarks, Abu-Rish discussed knowledge production on minorities, ethnicity, and race, outlining important differences across disciplines and how research and publication agendas on the topics change with respect to on-the-ground realities. For example, he noted how there has been a new wave of scholarship on Kurdish communities of the Middle East in the wake of the uprisings, counter-revolutions, and wars that have taken place in Syria and Iraq since 2011. Abu-Rish also discussed how graduate student training is particular to disciplines and departments. History programs with Middle East concentrations, for example, tend to focus on familiarizing students with the development of sects and sectarianism more so than with questions of race and ethnicity. However, many such U.S.-based programs are actively integrating scholarship on race and anti-Blackness in the wake of the Ferguson protests and Black Lives Matter movement. Abu-Rish concluded by calling for greater attention to cross-disciplinary learning and borrowing in graduate student training, and for concerted efforts to support and elevate new and critical research agendas on race and ethnicity in the Middle East.