America in the Middle East/The Middle East in America
An Interdisciplinary Conference
December 18-21, 2005
The Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR)
American University of Beirut
The September 11 attacks and the Iraq War have thrust the people of the Middle East and Americans into direct and intense contact. The goal of this conference is to explore these current encounters through contextualization and questioning. One important context is the long and complex history of encounters between two places designated “America” and the “Middle East.” Questioning the status of these two terms, and the entities they purport to describe, must be our starting point.
Scholars of American studies have called into question the notion that states are the default containers of cultures. Cultural diversity within the borders of the United States, and intercultural processes bleeding through those borders in multiple directions, mean that individual identities are formed from different proportions of sub-national, national, and transnational attachments. Few in the Middle East, nonetheless, would want to underestimate the political salience of national attachments in the United States—attachments that have been consolidated in part though narratives that appropriate and mythologize “America.” To the extent that religion has figured in these narratives, the Middle East has long been a background presence, but recent events have placed it near the center of both scholarly and public debates about the meaning of “America.”
The “Middle East” also requires questioning. Many Americans see the Middle East as unitary and often have difficulty distinguishing it from the “Arab World” and the “World of Islam.” Yet scholars cannot agree even on the boundaries of the region. Middle Eastern countries contain considerable ethnic, religious and even linguistic diversity. Levels of wealth, education, and secularization also vary widely. Moreover, the presence of people of Middle Eastern origin in places like Europe and North America reveals that the Middle East is not a neatly separable entity.
This conference invites papers that explore current American-Middle Eastern encounters by placing them into a larger context such as that of earlier encounters, or by questioning categories, terms or narratives. It will provide a unique opportunity to bring together scholars from North America, the Middle East and other regions to discuss past, present and future encounters. By providing considerable time for free interaction, the conference seeks to engender new insights and perspectives. At the very least, the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the American University of Beirut, and of Beirut itself, will allow some very positive encounters among the participants. In the opening address, Dr. Juan Cole of the University of Michigan will discuss the Americana Translation Project (http://www.juancole.com/trans.htm). Dr. Melanie McAlister of George Washington University will present a closing address focusing on U.S. images of the Middle East after 9/11.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:
The role of religions in mediating American-Middle Eastern encounters
African Americans and the Middle East
Connections between the domestic and the foreign (e.g., how is the domestic experience of race and gender connected to the representation of, and interactions with, foreign peoples?)
Empire and the Middle East, the global role of the U.S. after 9/11
The role of “the Middle East” in the construction of U.S. nationalistic narratives, the role of “America” in Middle Eastern political discourse
Border crossing between America and the Middle East (elite travelers, immigrants, missionaries, journalists, American universities in the Middle East, hybridities)
State relations (foreign policies, the status of sovereignty, public diplomacy, democracy and civil rights—promotion and erosion, the politics of oil, military and strategic issues)
The role of popular culture and media
Teaching American Studies in the Middle East: Teaching Middle East Studies in the United States
Prospects and possibilities for honest interactions, mutual understanding and justice
In addition to paper presenters, scholars of American studies living in the Middle East and representatives from American Studies Programs in the Middle East are specifically invited to participate is a special working session to discuss what American studies can be in the Middle Eastern context, and to consider future collaboration, coordination and interaction.
All paper presenters and Middle Eastern scholars will be partially subsidized. Scholars are urged to propose new work suitable for inclusion in a possible edited volume.
Please send abstracts of proposed papers (500 words or less), along with a short CV, via electronic mail to the e-mail address provided below by June 1, 2005. Authors of accepted papers will be notified by June 30. American studies scholars from the Middle East, even if they are not proposing to present a paper, are urged to indicate interest via e-mail. Further information about the conference is available on the CASAR website (web address provided below). Registration will begin immediately and continue until September 15 for paper presenters and Middle East scholars, and December 10 for general attendees. Registration information is posted on the website.
The Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) at American University of Beirut was launched in 2003 with a major gift from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud. It is an independent academic center that seeks to promote better understanding between the people of United States and those of the Arab World through teaching, research and outreach efforts.
Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR)
452 College Hall
American University Of Beirut
P.O. Box 11-0236
Riad El Solh,
Beirut 1107 2020 Lebanon
961-1-350000, ext. 4197
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