Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies Celebrates 15th Anniversary and Announces Renaming

January 23, 2019

A map of the world by cartographer Al-Sharif al-Idrisi (1154)

The newly renamed Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2018. Formerly named the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, the center promotes understanding of the Middle East through teaching, research and community outreach.

Founded in 2003, the center grew out discussions between faculty, students and administrators regarding University resources in Middle East Studies and an identified need for growth. The center recently underwent a name change guided by input from core affiliated faculty and staff to better reflect its focus as a hybrid between traditional area studies approaches and cross-regional Islamic studies.

“Fifteen years ago, when a group of faculty members got together to establish our center, UNC-Chapel Hill was one of the few universities to foreground a cross-regional approach to the study of the Middle East. Our center’s bulky name reflected that emphasis,” said Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology and co-director of the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies.

Over the past 15 years, the center has increased the number of University faculty in Middle East and Islamic studies, expanded curricular and research opportunities in Middle East studies on campus, and developed partnerships with universities both in the United States and abroad.

Distinguished by its cross-regional approach, the center currently has 85 affiliated faculty members and over 60 graduate students in fields such as anthropology, history, library science, music and religious studies, who research a variety of topics. UNC-Chapel Hill graduates in the fields of Middle East and Islamic Studies have gone on to work at the U.S. Department of State, in national security, U.S. Congress, in Middle East-related businesses and nonprofit organizations, and academia.

The center has successfully received external funding to support its work, most notably winning three four-year Title VI grants from the U.S. Department of Education in collaboration with the Duke University Middle East Studies Center. This funding, which led to the center’s designation as a National Resource Center, has allowed it to increase its administrative staff, support course development, strengthen language learning and expand opportunities for students related to Middle East and Islamic Studies.

The center will continue to be a comprehensive hub for Middle East and Islamic Studies on campus and in the community. “Even with the new, streamlined title, our center’s mission has not changed. We still bring a global perspective to Middle East studies, as well as bringing Middle East expertise to the study of global issues,” said Kurzman.