This article invites those interested in Middle East studies, especially emerging scholars, into a somewhat personalized genealogy of institutional development in the field. It is based largely on my years doing Middle East studies and building institutions for Middle East studies. It is not entirely chronological, though it tries to be. It is not an intellectual, paradigmatic, or political history of Middle East studies. For those concerns I would recommend Edward Said’s Orientalism, Timothy Mitchell’s “The Middle East in the Past and Future of Social Science.” And Zackary Lockman Field Notes: The Making of Middle East Studies in the United States.
One is getting old when one is asked to reflect on their own work and write histories of their activities. Ethnologie Françaiserecently asked me to write an retrospective article on my research career in Lebanon. About the same time, editors of an international collection on sibling relations asked me to write a chapter reflecting on my 1994 American Ethnologistarticle, “Brother/Sister Relationships: Connectivity, Love, and Power in the Reproduction of Patriarchy in Lebanon.” In Spring 2019, the ENIS Summer School in Sicily asked me to give a lecture on my work on “selving.” Several organizations which I founded or cofounded have asked me to write organizational histories. Being a bit stubborn, I decided not to feel old, and instead decided to use this occasion as an opportunity to reflect on a half-century of institution-building for Middle East studies, especially in the anthropology and women/gender/feminist studies of the Middle East.
In so many ways, this is an auspicious time for such a reflection. The United States is perhaps more polarized than any time since the US Civil War (1861–65). The world is perhaps more polarized than it has been since the Cold War. In 2019, the FBI recorded the highest number of “hate crimes” in the United States since 2008, with 7,314 criminal cases attributed to race, gender, or ethnic bias. Commenting on these statistics, a New York Times reporter suggested that the real figure is actually under-reported because of the way the FBI records criminal activity. Islamophobia is at an all-time high. Deployment of Islam as a political kickball escalated after the US presidential election cycle that began in 2015. The Muslim Ban of 27 January 2017 denied visas and entry to the United States for people from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. In June 2018, the US Supreme Court upheld the third iteration of Muslim Ban in a 5-4 ruling.
The Department of Education has cut funding for Middle East studies Title VI centers across the country. The National Humanities Alliance reported that cuts between 2011 and 2018 resulted in twenty-five percent fewer National Resource Centers and eighteen percent fewer undergraduate and graduate fellowships for all area studies Title VI centers.These centers have also been subjected to increased surveillance of their activities, creating more constraints on the academic freedom of Middle East studies scholars. We saw a recent example in the Department of Education’s August 2019 inquiry into the Duke University / University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Consortium. The DOE chastised the consortium and asked them to present a more “balanced” view of the Middle East—always a codeword to curtail academic freedom.
Surveillance of the Middle East American activists has accelerated. Scrutiny of the job hiring and tenure proceedings of Middle East scholars has increased, as the cases of Steven Salaita and Samer Shehata demonstrate. Censorship of scholarly activities around Middle East issues has targeted social media, as well as the popularly used educational technology platforms. We saw an example of censorship as recently as September 2020 with Zoom shutting down the webinar organized by San Francisco State University Professors Rabab Abdul Hadi and Tomomi Kinukawa. The webinar featured Palestinian resistance figure Leila Khaled.
Academic freedom for Middle East scholars continues to be challenged as they fight against the equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. We saw this conflation in a statement by President Carol L. Folt of the University of Southern California in August 2020. In November 2020, Michael Pompeo became the first US Secretary of State to visit an Israeli settlement, which the US government and the international community have long regarded as illegal. NBC news reported Pompeo stating that “the State Department will now regard the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which calls for boycott of goods made in the Israeli settlements, as anti-Semitic and punish those who support it.” We see this conflation also in the various efforts to legislate an equation of anti-Zionism and criticism of the state of Israel with anti-Semitism.
Research in the Middle East region itself has become more perilous as dictatorships, military regimes, and reactionary political elites reconsolidate power in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. Regional regimes impose many forms of censorship and surveillance on scholars and the media. In an increasingly polarized United States, and an increasingly polarized world, Islam and the Middle East are historically charged trigger points of polarization. It is an auspicious time for reflection.
Cooking in the Cauldron
I call this article “Cooking in the Cauldron: Middle East Studies 1966–2020.” The past half century in the Middle East (to say nothing of earlier periods) has been inflamed by wars, dislocations, and upheavals whose fires have been fed locally, regionally, and globally: the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Arab-Israeli 1973 war, the 1975–90 Lebanese Civil War; the 1980–88 Iran-Iraq War; the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon leading to eighteen years of occupation; the Sudanese civil war (1983–2005); the first Palestinian Intifada (1987–91); the 1990–91 Gulf War; the Algerian Civil War (1991–2002); the second Palestinian Intifada (2000); the al-Qa‘ida attacks of 11 September 2001; the 2001 US war on Afghanistan and its subsequent occupation; the 2003 US war on Iraq and its subsequent occupation; the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war; the 2010–11 Arab uprisings; the 2011 fall of dictators in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia; the launching of on-going wars of Syria and Yemen; the consolidation of power by dictators in Egypt and Syria; the 2019 Lebanon uprising; and the long-term paralysis of governments in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. These are only some examples of those fires.
The people dislocated are in the millions: forty percent of the world’s present refugee population are from the Middle East. Syria, with over half of its population displaced, is the global leader in producing refugees. The lives lost are in the millions. There are countless lives destroyed, homes demolished, families torn apart, generations of children and youth broken, and economies ravished. Political stability is a distant remembrance, if any remembrance at all. The fires of the cauldron have been cooking in open spaces for the past half century in the Middle East. Many of us came of age as emerging scholars of the Middle East in a time of raging fires. It is an auspicious time for reflection.
I start this somewhat personalized institutional genealogy of Middle East studies with the period of the 1960s. That decade featured the US free speech and civil rights movements, the global student anti-war protests, and the second wave of the women’s movement. The cauldron was boiling over, spilling inflamed issues all over the world. There were few safe spaces, few institutional locations, for Middle East studies for those of us who started graduate school in this period of global turmoil.
I began graduate school in 1966. I spent one year at the University of Pittsburgh and transferred to Columbia University in 1967 in Anthropology. Neither university had a Middle East anthropologist in their Anthropology Departments nor did they offer courses in Middle East anthropology at the time. So much had not yet been invented, created, named, or institutionalized for Middle East studies. Area studies was still an emerging field of study in academia, funded—in part—by Congressional concerns about US power in the world.
The 1960s and 1970s
Following World War II and the overwhelming destruction in Europe and Japan, the United States emerged as the leading global power. As the Cold War intensified and the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, there was an awareness in the US Congress that the United States was lacking in understanding the world and had to invest more in education—across all disciplines. For the sake of national security, Congress decided that the US public needed to learn the languages of the world. For example, in 1958 there were only a total of twenty-three US-based students formally studying Hindi.In 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) authorizing the funding of National Resources Centers (NRCs) which came to be known as Title VI centers: centers for the study of foreign languages. Along with them came the National Defense Foreign Language Fellowships (NDFL) and later the Fulbright and Fulbright-Hays programs. My first year at Columbia University was funded by an NDFL. We were ostensibly learning languages for national defense. Columbia University and Harvard University both established centers for Middle East studies in 1954, while UCLA did so in 1957 and UC Berkeley in 1963. The Middle East Institute at Columbia was overwhelmingly oriented toward political science and international affairs in the 1960s, with some of the affiliated faculty being former ambassadors.
As I started graduate training in 1966, there was very little national institutional presence for Middle East studies. It was in fact during that year that the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) was founded. In 1967, the Association for Arab American University Graduates (AAUG) was founded—in many ways a response to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. I remember vividly the sense of mystery and awe among graduate students at the founding of both institutions. MESA of the 1960s, however, was very different from the MESA of the 2020’s. At the same time, AAUG had yet to clarify what it was and for whom it was.
Those of us in graduate programs during the 1960s and 1970s saw things crumbling around us. At Columbia’s Department of Anthropology, we tore away the foundational assumptions of functionalism, structuralism, and nineteenth-century social evolutionary theory that positioned the “West” at the top of a pyramid of progress. The challenge to institutional anthropology that came in the 1960s and 1970s was destined to be never-ending.
We did not have terms for what we were doing—or at least not the terms that were later adopted. We called all of it “revolution.” Edward Said, who was himself already at Columbia while I was there, gave us the critical term of orientalism in 1978—a decade after the clay foundation of our academic house was exposed. As graduate students in anthropology, we knew the intellectual architecture we were inheriting in the 1960s and 1970s was a shining city on the hill built on the colonial cudgels of capitalism, imperialism, slavery, structural racism, classism, sexism, and extortion and extraction on the backs of people of color who were the “objects” of study. We were reading Dependency Theory with Andre Gunder Frank, World Systems Theory with Immanuel Wallerstein, capitalist accumulation, neocolonialism, and eurocentrism with Samir Amin, and Karl Marx on nearly everything. The Monthly Review Presswas our sacred site of knowledge production. We were working, with the thinkers of the times, to decolonialize knowledge and knowledge production.
We knew that our intellectual paradigms in Anthropology embedded assumptions of “primitive societies” evolving to become more civilized as they became increasingly Western and white. We understood that anthropology had emerged as a colonial practice of governance—knowledge production for the sake of empire. We did not have the answers, but we figured out a lot of what was wrong. We did not have institutional presence, yet we railed against institutions anyway. Then we learned to create our own institutions. That is the story I will now try to tell—the story of why it is important to build our own institutions and how several of ours came about.
We read together and ran our own seminars which faculty attended. Many of us were involved in the 1968 strikes and some of us participated in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) focusing on its Labor Committee. By the late 1960s and early 1970s a handful of us from Columbia’s Anthropology Department went off to do research in the Middle East. We returned by the early 1970s and found the world had once again changed.
Institutional Lessons in Institution-Building
The 1973 battle between the Palestiniansfida’iyyinand the Lebanese army put an end to my two-and-a-half years of field work in Lebanon. I returned to New York that year to find my Columbia and New York University (NYU) colleagues in a state of disarray. The SDS Labor Committee, which some of us had joined, had become a cult under the tyrannical and charismatic leadership of Lyndon LaRouche. It harassed and beat up members who did not toe the line in what came to be called “Operation Mop-Up.” A group of us “extracted” members and hid together temporarily in the face of the violence that came to be called the National Caucus of Labor Committees.
I came back from fieldwork in Lebanon to find Columbia’s Anthropology Department soon-to-be going into receivership. The 1968 student protests and its aftermath had so torn the department that it was not allowed to govern itself. Many of my colleagues, especially the most progressive and radical of us, could not find jobs. They hung around the department, not completing their PhDs because there was nothing waiting for them. Institutional anthropology was slow to acknowledge or account for the student protests, the free speech movement, the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, or the women’s movement.
In the 1970s, we started another round of reading groups: Middle East studies reading groups; Marxist reading groups; Middle East Marxist reading groups; feminist reading groups; Marxist feminist reading groups; Middle East family reading groups; and Marxist urban anthropology study groups. Urban anthropology was a brand-new field of study at the time. Until then, most anthropologists had done work among “tribes,” “peasants,” or “villagers.” I had done fieldwork in a large municipality of Greater Beirut called Borj Hammoud, with a population of around 200,000 at the time. I believe I was the first student to do doctoral exams in urban anthropology at Columbia. There were no graduate seminars on urban anthropology and no seminars on Middle East anthropology. We were cooking in a cauldron—inventing fields, building networks and organizations, learning to think about institutions, and learning to institutionalize our thinking.
It was out of this boiling cauldron that the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) was born. A number of us anthropology graduate students from Columbia and NYU had done research in the Middle East. I invited them, as well as a couple of others, into a Middle East reading group in 1975–76. We met regularly at my 100thStreet and Central Park West apartment—at the time, the borderline of Harlem. 
We did a close reading of Karl Wittfogel’s Oriental Despotism and felt that it deserved to be revisited by anthropologists. At the end of 1975, we decided to do a panel on the book at the AAA annual meeting, which was scheduled for November 1976 in Washington DC. Someone in the reading group learned that Wittfogel was living a few blocks away from me on Riverside Dr. and 114thSt. He had testified in the MacArthur Congressional hearings in the 1950s and had been persona non grata in AAA since. Unfettered by this 1950s history and still moved by the power of protest, the reading group agreed that we should try to contact him and ask if he would be a discussant on our panel. Someone in the group suggested that Robert (Bob) Dillon, my fellow Columbia anthropologist—not the singer—and I should go visit him. In those days, phone numbers were all publicly listed. I found his and called him. He agreed to let us visit him on 16 December 1975. Bob and I (but mostly Bob as I was terrified in the presence of the elderly and distinguished Wittfogel) explained our project and the panel for the AAA. To our surprise he agreed to be a discussant. I asked Robert Murphy, my anthropology advisor, to join as a second discussant.
Even more to our surprise, the AAA rejected our panel. The group decided we needed to know why. I called Anthony Wallace of the University of Pennsylvania, who was the program chair, to ask why our panel was rejected. He was flustered and apologetic. I do not remember that he actually explained why it had been rejected. What he suggested, however, was mind-changing: that we create an organization and affiliate it with AAA. Affiliated organizations, he explained, could hold organizational meetings at the AAA. He suggested that our organizational meeting could be the panel with Wittfogel. So, I made up the name “Middle East Research Group in Anthropology (MERGA),” affiliated it with the AAA with the help of Wallace, and became its first president in order to offer the panel as part of our 1976 MERGA organizational meeting in Washington DC. When Wittfogel learned that only the name of MERGA would be in the AAA program and that the name of the speakers would not appear in the program, he withdrew from the panel. Murphy stuck with us. We held the panel to a standing-room only attendance. MERGA was thus born in Washington DC that November 1976.
The following year, the AAA organized a major plenary session with Wittfogel as the honorary speaker and a lineup of senior scholars as discussants of his work. I learned two things from this anthropological experience. First, the AAA would not allow a group of graduate students to bring back a distinguished figure such as Wittfogel into the AAA fold. We were coopted by institutional anthropology. It was not because the panel and panel organizers were Middle East scholars, nor that some of us were Arab American and some of us Jewish American, nor that some of us were white and others of color. It was because we were graduate students. This was a lesson in institutional anthropology’s hierarchy. The second lesson was that, even as graduate students, we could create our own organizations. We had, after all, still held the panel at the AAA. The room was packed—standing room only. I understood that there were things you could do as a formal organization that you could not do as an informal network, group of friends, or a revolutionary underground movement.
These were my first lessons in institution-building. I came to understand that institutions mattered for the production of knowledge. They mattered for the visibility of knowledge production. Institutions opened doors, created opportunities, and made possible a sustainable structural force beyond the persons who built them. I understood that the knowledge produced within institution or with institutional support endures.
I founded MERGA in 1976, only ten years after MESA was founded. MERGA changed its name to the Middle East Section of the AAA when the AAA asked all affiliated organizations to become “sections” of the AAA. From the roiling cauldron of Middle East anthropology, Marxist anthropology, Middle East Marxist studies, feminist studies, Marxist feminist studies, Middle East family studies, and urban anthropology studies, many of us forged intellectual movements, new courses, and institutions—all of which were intimately engaged with regional and global events and transformations.
The Impossibility of Middle East Studies
The 1973 Arab-Israeli war shattered us again. In 1975, the civil war in Lebanon broke out. I had presaged the breakdown of Lebanon’s political system in my dissertation, but Murphy, my advisor, asked me to remove those sections from it. The civil war was raging as I defended my dissertation in Spring of 1975—to all our horror. My gentlemanly advisor acknowledged the presaging and Alexander Erlich (one of my Marxist committee members) insisted that it was an “historical necessity” that I publish it. I never did, swept as I was by the demand for speaking engagements to explain the events in Lebanon. By 1979, the Islamic Revolution in Iran took hold. The Iranian revolution launched a re-privileging of the study of Islam in Middle East studies, especially in the study of women and gender in the Middle East, that continues unabated until this day, albeit transformed. I had begun a collaborative research project with Peter Gran and Eric Davis in Iraq in 1980. The Iran-Iraq War put an end to my field work in Iraq. By 1982, Israel had invaded Lebanon, lit the lights for a massacre in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, embedded its military forces in southern Lebanon, and fostered the Israeli-trained and funded South Lebanese Army (SLA) for the next two decades.
Middle East studies in the United States became brutally divisive as violence ravaged the countries from which we came or in which we did our research. When I came to University of California, Davis in 1976, I was the only faculty member who taught courses on the Middle East as a part of my regular teaching load. Soon after I arrived at UC Davis, I was asked to give a public lecture on the events in Lebanon. The fires of Middle East studies raged even in quiet little Davis. At the lecture, I took back the mic during the Q&A to shut down a flaming screaming match between Israeli and Palestinian supporters. MESA meetings similarly became inflamed. At an open mike at a MESA meeting just after Israel’s invasions of Lebanon, I pleaded for scholarly sanity as scholars angrily attacked each other personally and politically, firing up the flames of intellectual partisanship.
I felt I could no longer be a sane scholar and study the Middle East. From the opening of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, I had spent years on the road and in the public media talking about Lebanon and the Middle East—explaining violence, arguing against religious explanations of the civil war, and trying to put events in historical context. I found myself, with scholars more distinguished than myself, on blacklists—harassed by some students as well as the occasional student parent. Teaching Middle East courses became a minefield. I was beginning to think that I had to leave the field of Middle East studies if I wanted to remain a scholar and sanely so.
The Hope of Women’s Studies
In 1980, I was among a group of scholars who co-founded, and took turns directing the Women’s Studies Program at the University of California, Davis. It was a marvelous program of good colleagues and good collegiality with a shared vision and mission. While I had not been a feminist or a gender scholar when I did my doctoral research in the early 1970s, the field experience and the data I had gathered turned me into a scholar of gender. In the 1980 collaborative project with Gran and Davis in Iraq, I had focused on the General Federation of Iraqi Women. I had become active in the San Francisco branch the Feminist Arab American Network (FAN), founded by Carol Haddad in 1982.
In 1982, Egyptian Marxist feminist Nawal El Saadawi organized the Arab Women Solidarity Association (AWSA) in Cairo, Egypt. She promoted organizations in many parts of the region and outside of it. AWSA had a North American branch by 1994. Nadine Naber, Therese Salibi, and Nawal El Saadawi founded it in Seattle, Washington—with Naber taking the lead. This effort paralleled the founding of North American chapters of the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) in the 1990s. Women’s organizations had existed in the Middle East for nearly a century. The transnational character of these new organizations stimulated new coalitions and networks.
During the early 1980s, as I was seriously thinking of leaving Middle East studies, I began to think that founding an organization for women’s studies within Middle East studies might bring sanity to scholarship—at least for me. As it happened, MESA asked me in 1984 to co-chair the program committee for its upcoming annual in San Francisco. I asked the program committee to allow me to organize the first plenary on women’s studies at MESA (which turned out to be the only plenary MESA has had on women’s studies). They agreed. After I organized the plenary, I came to learn that the 1983 MESA meeting in Chicago (which I had missed) featured belly dancers as entertainment. A number of feminist MESA members walked out in protest and demanded that MESA address gender issues. When she learned about the women’s studies plenary being planned for the 1984 meeting, Elizabeth (BJ) Fernea, one of those protesters, called me and told me about the Chicago meeting. I invited her to take my place as chair of the plenary. Nikki Keddie, Mubeccel Kiray, and Amal Rassam, distinguished scholars and advocates of women and gender studies, had already agreed to serve on the plenary. To add comparative analysis, I invited Rayna Rapp, a leading feminist anthropologist to join. She addressed anthropological theory on women in the Middle East.
To support this effort to bring women’s studies to MESA, I mobilized with feminist scholars of MESA to organize another nine panels on women’s studies—the most that MESA had ever had at an annual meeting. Learning from my experience with founding MERGA/MES at AAA, I additionally worked with MESA to create a slot in the program to hold a special meeting to found an organization for Middle East women’s studies. I invited Deniz Kandiyoti to be a keynote speaker at this special organizational meeting. Michael Bonine, MESA’s Executive Secretary at the time, helped me fund the Kandiyoti event and the plenary. The organizational meeting and the nine panels, with the plenary created eleven slots in the MESA program on women and gender studies in that foundational year of 1984.
It was that same year (1984) in San Francisco that a number of us put forward a resolution asking MESA to condemn the blacklisting of Middle East scholars in academic circles. Many of us were ourselves targeted on the black list. Ira Lapidus was MESA president and I appealed to him directly to support the resolution. MESA passed the resolution. That annual meeting was a boiling cauldron: Intense debate accompanied the resolution; the women’s studies panels were packed; the special meeting with Kandiyoti was standing-room only. However, we failed to found an association for Middle East women’s studies that year.
I tried again the next year, asking colleagues to organize another set of panels (another ten) and once again held an organizing meeting. This time I invited Leila Ahmed as the keynote speaker. It was at this 1985 MESA meeting in New Orleans, that the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies (AMEWS) was founded, with me as founding president. I modeled AMEWS on MERGA—now the Middle East Section (MES) of AAA. AMEWS, like MES, continues today. In 2005, miriam cooke, Sondra Hale, and I co-founded AMEWS’Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies.
Founding AMEWS was for me a way to escape from the roiling cauldron of Middle East studies. AMEWS was and remains marvelous. However, it was naive of me to think that women’s studies would be free of the politics of the academy and the world. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the fires flaming women’s studies in general and Middle East studies in particular began to burn within AMEWS.
Cooking Up Institutions: The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s
Cooking up institutions and publications in Middle East studies became a major undertaking in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The Society for Iranian Studies (later the Association for Iranian Studies) was founded in 1967. MESA’sInternational Journal for Middle East Studies (IJMES) was founded in 1970. The Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association was founded in 1971. Middle East Research and Information Project(MERIP) was founded in 1971. The British Middle East Studies Association (BRISMES) was founded in 1973 and its Journal of Middle East Studies in 1974. The Middle East Research Group in Anthropology (MERGA/MES of AAA) was founded in 1976. The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) was founded in 1980. It was followed by the Feminist Arab-American Network (FAN) in 1982 and the Arab American Institute (AAI) in 1985. The Association for Middle East Women’s Studies (AMEWS) in 1986. The Syrian Studies Association (SSA) was founded in 1993. The Arab Studies Journallaunched in 1992. The Lebanese Studies Association was founded in 1998, closed shop in 2002, and a new iteration established in 2018.
Those decades were clearly a period of institution building. Many of us had come to understand that knowledge unprotected by institutions can have a short life, fail, or be erased. To survive intellectually, to nurture those who would come after us, and to have an impact outside of ourselves with the knowledge that we produced, many of us felt we had to build spaces within institutional structures to work and live.
Specialized Institutions: Turn of the Twenty-First Century
While I saw the AMEWS and the MES-AAA struggling with the larger issues of Middle East studies, I still deeply believed in institution building. In 1994, Brill, one of Europe’s oldest publishing houses, approached me to found an encyclopedia about women. After four years of conceptual work – at several points it seemed Brill was about to drop the project – we launched the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures(EWIC) in 1998. EWIC was the first such project. A major, long-term, interdisciplinary, global, collaborative undertaking, EWIC began its work with Afsaneh Najmabadi, Seteney Shami, Julie Peteet, Jacqueline Siapno, and Jane I. Smith as Associate Editors and me as General Editor. Over its two decades of life, EWIC has published approximately 1,500 articles by nearly 1,200 authors from all over the world—spanning about 4 million words addressing 452 topics. EWIC is publishing its second print edition (comprised of nine volumes) in 2020–21. EWIC Online is launching the next generation in 2022. We are organizing an archival project by carrying out and hosting video interviews with foundational figures from the study of women and Islamic cultures.
By the turn of the current century, institution building had become more specialized. While in Cairo as the University of California Education Abroad Director at the American University in Cairo, 1999–2001, I became interested in understanding regional scholarly organizations. I was keen on creating organizations linking scholars in the region with one another as well as with scholars outside the region. The project of decolonizing knowledge and knowledge production could not endure unless it was inclusive of and in collaboration with regional scholars working with knowledge of local histories, cultures, and politics. Toward the goal of regional and trans-regional scholarship in Middle East studies I founded the Arab Families Working Group (AFWG) in 2001. A group of sixteen scholars, based mostly in Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine, we focused on collaborative research on Arab families and youth. AFWG started with around 24 members, but consolidated its membership with Lamis Abu Nahla, Ibrahim Elnur, Hoda Elsadda, Omnia El Shakry, Barbara Ibrahim, Islah Jad, Penny Johnson, Suad Joseph, Ray Jureidini, Mona Khalaf, Eileen Kuttab, Jihad Makhoul, Annelies Moors, Nadine Naber, Martina Rieker, and Zeina Zaatari.
By 2008, AFWG started focusing on training the next generation of scholars to carry out rigorous, critical social science research and continued that training until 2018. AFWG’s work in training emerging regional scholars inspired another organization. This was the context in which I founded the Transformative Engaged Research Group (TERG) in 2016. TERG has focused entirely on training early career scholars in the Arab region to carry out research in their own countries and build theories that are historically, socially, and culturally contextualized for the region. TERG was built by the collaborative commitments of my former students Zeina Zaatari, Lena Meari, Nadine Naber, and myself.
While in Cairo, I founded the BCBCB Consortium in 2001, which later became the University of California Davis Arab Region Consortium(UCDAR). It includes the American University of Beirut (AUB), American University in Cairo (AUC), Lebanese American University (LAU), Birzeit University, American University of Sharjah (AUS), and University of California, Davis. The goal of UCDAR is to carry out collaborative interdisciplinary regional projects across the disciplines, across the region, fostering partnerships within the region and with UC Davis. Currently, three projects are active in UCDAR: Transforming Refugee Mental Health (TRMH, 2017), Gendering STEM Education (GSE, 2017), and Mapping the Production of Knowledge on Women and Gender in the Arab Region(MPK 2015), with the Sustainability Research and Training Program (SRTP) having just completed its work. All are collaborative, all are interdisciplinary, and all have scholars from five to six of the partner universities.
At the time I was founding AFWG and UCDAR, a critical organization was being founded in Europe. The World Congress for Middle East Studies (WOCMES) held its first conference in Mainz, Germany in 2002. WOCMES continues holding conferences every four years, attracting many scholars from the region who are not able to attend MESA’s annual conference in North America.
I returned from Cairo to UC Davis in 2001 to find the world changed—again. The 11 September 2001 attacks lit new fires just weeks after my return. I was still the only faculty at UC Davis who taught Middle East courses as a regular part of their course load. However, that year UC Davis hired three scholars of the Middle East: Omnia El Shakry, Baki Tezcan, and Jocelyn Sharlet. In 2002, I invited them to a reading/discussion group, which met monthly in my home and later on campus for close to a decade. It was El Shakry’s idea that we turn the gathering into a Middle East/South Asia Research Cluster. By 2004 we had founded the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program, as an undergraduate minor, at UC Davis, with me as its founding director. ME/SA now boasts a major, four minors, a robust forty affiliated faculty of Middle East and South Asia studies, over 120 courses on the Middle East and South Asia, and endowments for Iranian, Arab, and South Asian studies. ME/SA raised funding for and introduced programs in Arabic, Hindi/Urdu, Persian, and Punjabi–more than doubling the number of non-European languages taught at UC Davis at the time.
Feminist Arab American studies had been developing in the United States throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The first effort at creating an organization for Arab American women had come as early as 1982 when scholar-activist Carol Haddad founded the Feminist Arab-American Network (FAN). The organization did not survive the decades, but feminist Arab American studies continued to grow. The first conference on Arab American women was held in Manhattan, Kansas in 2009. Michael Suleiman, a political scientist who was not a feminist scholar, organized it as part of his deep commitment to Arab American studies. Before he passed away, he asked me, Elaine Hagopian, and Lisa Suhair Majaj to organize a conference on Arab American studies at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. I invited Nadine Naber to join the committee and—with the help of the Arab American National Museum—we organized the conference. Out of that highly successful conference, Rita Stephan led the effort with Pauline Vinson Homsi, Randa Kayyali, and me to co-found the Arab American Studies Association, which affiliated with MESA in 2012. Stephan, Homsi, and Kayyali did all the work to launch AASA, but asked me to preside as founding president.
There was increasing recognition of the need to foster and fund social science research of the Middle East—not only in the United States and Europe, but also in the region. In 2010, that recognition led to the founding of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS). The ACSS has become a critical, member-driven collective community of largely regionally-based scholars. It promotes regional scholars and scholarship through funding, training, and a vast variety of conferences, workshops, and other research-related activities, under the apt leadership of Seteney Shami.
Partly in my capacity as President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, I worked with a team to organize a three-day conference for anthropologists of the Middle East within the 2011 MESA annual meeting. Out of that event, Marcia Inhorn and I co-founded the Association for Middle East Anthropology (AMEA) within MESA in 2012, with Sherine Hafez as its founding president, to connect with its sister organization, the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association.
The Arab Studies Institute (ASI) was founded in 1992, with the establishment of theArab Studies Journal (ASJ). In the cauldron of that year of 2010, one of the most generative organizations emerged: Jadaliyya. Founded under the umbrella of ASI, it was one of a number of ASI projects: Quilting Point, its audio-visual arm (2002); FAMA Research, its research arm (2008); and Tadween Publishing (2012). ASI went on to create major projects like the Knowledge Production Project in 2008, the Status/الوضعAudio-Visual Magazine in 2014, and the Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI) in 2016.
Why Institutionalize Knowledge Production?
I look back at this institution-building—that of mine and that of others—and wonder why, and to what avail? I am not sure I have an answer. It was neither with forethought nor planning. I myself did not set out as a young scholar to become an institution-builder. I was not visionary. I did not have a landscape or map of where I was going or where the field was heading. My guess is that many of my good colleagues who were building institutions during these heady and heated decades might say something similar.
Perhaps, there was a series of historical moments, needs, vacuums, and spaces that required filling. Perhaps, more than anything else, it was survival. I was compelled, and I believe others might have been as well, by the need for safe spaces to work, by the need for community, collaboration, and good colleagues to work with—especially colleagues who knew and cared deeply about the Middle East. I understood that none of this work of producing contextualized knowledge could be done alone. To produce knowledge about the region and for the region that was historically situated, that took account of colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, racism, classism, sexism, eurocentrism, and the many other forms of knowledge dislocation—there needed to be safe spaces. We needed to institutionalize spaces for knowledge production. Anthropology had taught me that institutions offer structures for survival, living, and enduring.
Now, with academia increasingly under attack, and with academic freedom as well as freedom of speech at high risk, and with science politicized and ridiculed by a frightening percentage of the population, I feel more strongly than ever that we, as scholars, must create those safe spaces for our work and the work of our emerging colleagues. For we are once again in a boiling cauldron. Perhaps we have never been out of the cauldron during these past fifty years of Middle East studies. Perhaps we had a few years of lower-simmering heat, but not much and not for long. Now the cauldron is flaming again, as much as ever, if not more than ever.
An Historical Moment
The region seems at war with itself. In Lebanon the banking system has collapsed, the popular protests which brought around a million people to the streets in October 2019 have been shut down by state repression, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 4 August 2020 explosion that killed over 200 people, wounded 2,700, and made 300,000 homeless. Syria is the world’s leading contributor to the global refugee crisis and continues is conflictual entanglements with neighboring countries. Qatar is being boycotted by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. The sanctions on Iran appear to have strengthened the control of Iran’s Supreme Clerical Council. The Turkish government continues to imprison more journalists than any other country in the world, while that of Egypt shuts down civil society organizations and imprisons and silences academics.
What is this roiling cauldron that scholars of the Middle East and the people of the Middle East find themselves in now? What does the moment call for from us in institutional, political, and scholarly terms? We find ourselves in an historical moment. Area studies scholars must always be students of history—and good students of history. We need to map and read our own intellectual genealogies, identify our scholarly and political choices, and position ourselves historically. History makes us as much as we make history—we cannot invent history by fake news, misleading stories, or distorted narratives. To whatever degree we twist history into what it was not, we pay the price in not being able to understand the present or anticipate the future.
Where have we been, where are we now, and what are our next steps as academics, as scholars of the Middle East? I no more have the answers than any of you. What little vantage point I might have is as a member ofabridging generation. When I entered the field of Middle East anthropology fifty years ago, it was hardly a field and rarely read by scholars outside of Middle East studies. It was founding itself. It was possible to know most of the scholars of the Middle East, at least in your own field. In anthropology, these were: Emyrs Peters, Evans Pritchard, Talal Asad, Nicholas Hopkins, Cynthia Nelson, John Gulick, Robert Fernea, Elizabeth Fernea, Clifford Geertz, Hildred Geertz, Louise Sweet, Lucie Wood Saunders, Richard Antoun, Hamid Ammar, Rosemary Sayigh, and Fuad Khuri. I engaged with them all, and many of them in extended fashion (with the exception of Evans Pritchard). In that generation of Middle East studies, we only had each other.
The past five decades birthed a number of generations of scholars, each emerging from the cauldrons of their historical moments and each adding rich ingredients to the stew that is now Middle East studies. It is certainly no longer possible to know most of the scholars who work in the field of Middle East studies—even in your own discipline—or read most of the literature of the field—even in your own discipline. That is an amazing recognition. It is a recognition that leads me to think it is time for reflection, rethinking, and taking the big picture of what we have accomplished and what yet needs to be done. This may not be a recipe for everyone, but it is an approach I would encourage for those so inclined. It is what I have found myself focusing on recently.
I would urge us, as social scientists and humanists, to work more collaboratively, to take on large projects, and to create or join interdisciplinary teams. The problems of the region are not the sort of problems that any discipline or any individual scholar is equipped to address on their own. I would encourage the emerging generation of Middle East scholars to ask themselves what is the social relevance of the work you are doing. What is the social good? We need to be inclusive in our projects, make sure that we have delivered something that is useful to the people with whom we work, work with them as partners, where needed work to build their research capacity locally, and work with civil society organizations, public organizations to disseminate research results locally, getting the work back to the countries so it can possibly build towards some social good. The historical moment we find ourselves in could possibly be transformative. It is not our privilege to know whether it is. But it is our responsibility to ask the questions of the historical moment we find ourselves in. It is time for the large questions, the collaborative projects, the interdisciplinary teams, and for the transnational/global research engagements.
My comments are from a particular positionality. They are a somewhat personalized organizational genealogy—a journey into the institutional grounds on which we produce knowledge on this region of the world to which so many of us are so committed. I cannot know whether they will be of use to others. To whatever extent they may be useful I put them out there, especially for our emerging scholars. What I do know is that each generation of scholars needs to understand itself and its scholarship as a part of an historical moment. Each generation needs to dissect its own moment. Each generation needs to stand in front of that steaming cauldron of Middle East studies and identify the ingredients in the stew and decide: what are you going to take from it and what are you going to add to it.
I have a painting at home by contemporary Egyptian feminist artist Hoda Lutfi. It shows a string of women jumping over fire. The quote on the painting says, “When you see a fire, jump into it or it will burn you.” I say to you, stand in front of the cauldron of Middle East studies. It is hot and roiling—unless you jump into it fully, thoughtfully, with knowledge of your scholarly genealogy, with a reckoning with your historical moment, and with a will to add something of value to the mix, unless you jump in with all that you have to give, it will burn you. Throw yourself in—there is so much to be done.
*Copyright Suad Joseph.
Auhor's Note: I would like to thank the George Mason University and the Arab Studies Institute, and especially my good friend Bassam Haddad, for the invitation to present this as their 2020 Distinguished Lecture. Originally scheduled for Spring 2020, it was rescheduled to 19 November 2020 and delivered via Zoom and Facebook due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to thank both Bassam Haddad, Maya Mikdashi, and Ziad Abu-Rish for input and guidance turning the Zoom/Facebook talk into this article for publication with ASJ Onlineand Jadaliyya. I consulted with a number of friends and colleagues on issues related to this talk over a number of months, indeed years. I would like to thank Barbara Larson, Jo Ann Joseph, Ilana Miller, Rachelle Taqqu, Jeffrey Reger, Sara Palmer, Ussama Makdisi, Sondra Hale, Nancy Gallagher, Leila Ahmed, Deniz Kandiyoti, Sherifa Zuhur, Nadine Naber, Akram Khater, Amy Newhall, miriam cooke, and Margot Badran, for many conversations and insights about the development of these institutions. I would also like to thank the many good friends and colleagues who worked together to accomplish so many of the organizations and activities discussed in this article. They are too many to name, but their names are in my heart. An earlier version of this talk was initially presented in 2017 at the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association on the occasion of the Distinguished Scholar Award.
 Edward Said, Orientalism(New York: Pantheon Books, 1978); Timothy Mitchell, “The Middle East in the Past and Future of Social Science,” in The Politics of Knowledge: Area Studies and the Disciplines,ed. David L. Szanton (Berkley: UC Press, 2002); Zachary Lockman, Field Notes: The Making of Middle East Studies in the United States(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016).
 Suad Joseph, Intimate Selving in Arab Families: Gender, Self and Identity(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999).
 Tim Arango, “Hate Crimes at Highest Since 2008, F.B.I. Reports,” The New York Times, 17 November 2020, 19.
 Middle East Studies Association, Task Force on Civil and Human Rights, “Memo on Executive Order to Limit Entry of Middle Eastern Refugees and Immigrants,” 29 January 2017, https://mesana.org/advocacy/task-force-on-civil-and-human-rights/2017/01/29/memo-on-executive-order-to-limit-entry-of-middle-eastern-refugees-and-immig.
 Middle East Studies Association, Task Force on Civil and Human Rights, “
Memo onus Supreme Court Decision on IRAP v. Trump upholding September 24, 2017 Presidential Proclamation of Travel Ban,” https://mesana.org/advocacy/task-force-on-civil-and-human-rights/2018/07/20/memo-on-us-supreme-court-decision-on-irap-v.-trump-upholding-september-24-2017-presidential-proclamation-of-travel-ban. Also see American Civil Liberties Union, “Timeline of the Muslim Ban,” 2020, https://www.aclu-wa.org/pages/timeline-muslim-ban; No Muslim Ban Ever, “One Year After the Scotus Ruling. Understanding the Muslim Ban and How We’ll Keep Fighting It,” National Immigration Law Center, June 2019, https://www.nilc.org/issues/immigration-enforcement/understanding-muslim-ban-one-year-after-ruling/. As part of his first string of executive orders, US President Joseph Biden rescinded the Muslim Ban. See Nazita Lajevardi, Lassra AR Oskooii, and Loren Collingwoord, “Biden Reversed Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban.’ Americans Support the Decision,” The Washington Post, 27 January 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/27/biden-reversed-trumps-muslim-ban-americans-support-that-decision/.
 National Humanities Alliance, “Support International Education—Title VI and Fulbright Hays,” n.d., https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/nhalliance/pages/1748/attachments/original/1582816987/Title_VI_Issue_Brief_FY_21.pdf?1582816987.
 Jay Schalin, “No, Academia, Title VI Funding is Not for Your Pleasure,” The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, 17 September 2019. https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2019/09/no-academia-title-vi-funding-is-not-for-your-pleasure/; Elizabeth Redden, “Middle East Studies Program Comes Under Federal Scrutiny,” Inside Higher Ed,25 September 2019, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/09/25/federal-inquiry-middle-east-studies-program-raises-academic-freedom-concerns; NCAC, “Department of Education Threatens Academic Freedom at Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies,” National Coalition Against Censorship, 30 September 2019, https://ncac.org/news/department-of-education-threatens-academic-freedom-at-duke-unc-consortium-for-middle-east-studies.
 See, respectively, American Association of University Professors (AAUP), “Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,” 2015, https://www.aaup.org/report/UIUC; Colleen Flaherty, “Judged by Unfair Standards?” Insider Higher Ed, 14 June 2013, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/06/14/prominent-arab-studies-scholar-challenges-georgetown-tenure-decision.
 Ahlam Muhtaseb, “How Corporate Tech Threatens Academic Freedom,” Middle East Eye, 22 October 2020; Middle East Studies Association, Board of Directors,“Middle East Studies Association Statement on Academic Freedom and Corporate Control of Digital Platforms,” 29 October 2020, https://www.mesana.org/advocacy/committee-on-academic-freedom.
 Middle East Studies Association, Committee on Academic Freedom, “Letter to USC President Regarding Recent Message Conflating Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism,” 17 August 2020, https://mesana.org/advocacy/committee-on-academic-freedom/2020/08/17/letter-to-usc-president-regarding-recent-message-conflating-anti-zionism-and-anti-semitism.
 Abigail Williams and Saphora Smith, “Pompeo Becomes First Secretary of State to Visit Israeli Settlement,” NBC News, 19 November 2020.
 Tarek Ghanem, “The Current and Future Challenges of Middle Eastern Studies,” Open Democracy, 24 February 2017, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/north-africa-west-asia/current-challenges-and-future-of-middle-eastern-studies/; Abdalhadi Alijla, “Researching the Middle East: Challenges and Miseries,” The American Political Science Association MENA Workshops Newsletter, no. 2 (25 May 2017), https://email@example.com/researching-the-middle-east-challenges-and-miseries-b351400814b2.
 United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR), “Refugee Statistics,” 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/.
 Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, “The History of Title VI and Fulbright-Hays: An Impressive International Timeline,” https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/iegps/history.html.
 Andre Gunder Frank, The Development of Underdevelopment(New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966); Andre Gunder Frank, Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967).
 Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century(New York & London: Academic Press, 1974).
 Samir Amin, The Class Struggle in Africa(London: Africa Research Group, 1969); Samir Amin, Neo-Colonialism in West Africa(New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973); Samir Amin, Accumulation on a World Scale: A Critique of the Theory of Underdevelopment (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974).
 John Mintz, “LaRouche: Ideological Odyssey: From Old Left to Far Right,” The Washington Post, 14 January 1985, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/cult/larouche/main.html; Richard Severo, “Lyndon LaRouche, Cult Figure Who Ran for President 8 Times, Dies at 96,” The New York Times, 13 February 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/13/obituaries/lyndon-larouche-dead.html.
 Joan Vincent, herself a recent Columbia Anthropology PhD and new faculty member at Barnard College, mentored me to do some readings in urban anthropology as preparation for my doctoral exams.
 The reading group’s membership shifted over time but included at different points myself, Robert and Phyllis Dillon, Grace Goodell, Mary Ann Castle, JoAnn Joseph, Lucie Wood Saunders, Barbara Larson, Paul Rabinow, and Allen Dubetsky.There may have been others, consulting with former members has revealed conflicting memories. My calendar indicates it met at my apartment largely about every two weeks or so in 1975–76 until I left for UC Davis in the summer of 1976.
 For the historical record, Lara Deep and Jessica Wenigar’s Anthropology’s Politics, Disciplining the Middle East(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), has the story wrong about the founding of the Middle East Section of the AAA. They seem to not have understood that the “Middle East Section” of the AAA was simply a name change from “MERGA,” precipitated by AAA’s request that affiliated organizations become “sections.” Barbara Larson and Lucie Wood Saunders did the work to make that change happen. MES was a name change from MERGA for AAA purposes and not a new organization.
 There were many, many more reading and discussion groups in which I participated. Notably, the Marxist Arab Families reading group with Ylana Miller, Rachelle Taqqu, Barbara Larson, Lucie Wood Saunders, and myself. We started meeting in 1975–76 at Ylana Miller’s apartment and continued for a couple of years after I moved to Davis, CA, meeting when I would return to New York City during the summers to teach summer school at Columbia University. The group was generative of many aspects of my thinking on family which took another decade to mature and be published.
 Suad Joseph, “The Politicization of Religious Sects in Borj Hammoud, Lebanon” (PhD Diss., Columbia University, 1975).
 The Economics Department did not allow Elias Tuma to regularly teach his course on Middle East economics as they were not area studies oriented. In Geography and Nutrition, Louis Grivetti could not teach regularly on the Middle East as his field was the ancient Middle East.
 Suad Joseph, “God, Workers, Women, and Self: Convergences, Accidents, and Other Uncertainties in Half a Century of Fieldwork in Lebanon,” Ethnologie Francaise, Special Issue: Lebanese Anthropologies (Forthcoming 2021).
 Suad Joseph, “The Mobilization of Iraqi Women into the Wage Labor Force,” Studies in Third World Societies16 (1982): 69–90; Suad Joseph, “The Mobilization of Iraqi Women into the Wage Labor Force,” Studies in Third World Societies16 (1982): 69–90; Suad Joseph, “Elite Strategies for State Building: Women, Family, Religion, and State in Iraq and Lebanon,” in Women, Islam and the State, ed. Deniz Kandiyoti (London: MacMillan, 1991),176–200.
 Margot Badran, Feminists, Islam, and Nation. Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995); Frances S. Hasso, Resistance, Repression, and Gender Politics in Occupied Palestine and Jordan(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005); Beth Baron, Egypt as a Woman. Nationalism, Gender, and Politics(Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2007).
 I am not aware of all of those who walked out of the 1983 MESA entertainment. I understand from Nancy Gallagher that she, Elizabeth (BJ) Fernea, and Margot Badran were among them. Margot Badran emailed me that she saw Nikki Keddie stand up and walk out. Gallagher seems to remember that BJ Fernea stood up first and others followed. The protestors were scattered and acted individually, according to Gallagher and Badran. A total of about ten-fifteen feminist, perhaps more, according to Badran. They stood up, walked out, and made some noise in the back. Sherifa Zuhur reports that MESA invited noted musician Jihad Racy to perform with his orchestra at the 1988 meeting. Zuhur, who had a dance company, performed in a baladidress and a malayya laff. She recalls some people walked out of that performance as well. From email correspondence November and December 2020 and several previous conversations.
 Suad Joseph, “The Founding of AMEWS,” AMEWS News1, no. 1 (1988): 1–4.
 The first UCDAR meeting was held in Beirut during May 2001 and included a team from four University of California campuses, co-hosted by the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University. The other three UC campuses did not continue in the consortium. Birzeit joined by 2004 and American University of Sharjah in 2012. The 2001 meeting in Beirut included presidents, provosts, deans, and leading faculty—around sixty to seventy participants. A humorous remark made by the Provost of the American University in Cairo circulated, claiming it took the University of California to bring the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University to hold their first official formal meeting together. See http://sjoseph.ucdavis.edu/ucdar and http://sjoseph.ucdavis.edu/afwg for more about these two organizations.
 Carol Haddad, “Second-Wave Arab American Activism: The Story of the Feminist Arab-American Network,”inArab American Women: Representation and Refusal, ed. Michael S. Suleiman, Suad Joseph, and Louise Cainkar Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2021). This edited book emerged from the Michael Suleiman conference in 2009. Unable to finish the book before he passed, Suleiman asked me, in 2010, to finish it for him. In 2018, I asked Louise Cainkar to join me as co-editor to complete the project.