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  • Middle East Scholars in Europe:
    an overview

    Daniel Panzac
    with additions by Gerd Nonnemann

    EURAMES was established on 11 July 1990 in Paris and comprises 13 member organizations from the following countries: Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Norway, Holland, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the Ukraine.

    Following the collaboration of representatives from the various national associations, I have been able to provide an outline of the potential of EURAMES resources. While the information contained varies considerably, the conclusions are interesting and can provide a useful basis for future action. This outline is on two levels: the first provides a synthesis of the principle characteristics of oriental studies in the different member societies of EURAMES; the second is a synthesis which evaluates, however approximately, the fundamental basis of study in this area throughout Europe.

    There has thus far been only one attempt to produce a survey of all Middle East expertise in Europe. This was undertaken for EURAMES and the European Commission, and published by EURAMES in 1993, running to 377 pages: E. Murphy, G. Nonneman & N. Quilliam, European Expertise on the Middle East and North Africa. Oxford: EURAMES, 1993)

    Summary by country


    Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Vorderer Orient (DAVO)

    In 1997 there were 258 orientalists in permanent employment, including younger researchers who have completed their theses. Of these, 180 were members of DAVO (the German Association for Contemporary Research and Documentation in the Middle East). DAVO has a total of 480 members mainly comprising university lecturers, students, journalists and 48 non-German lecturers who are resident in Germany. The most important areas of research are Islamic studies (62), political sciences (38), Arab studies (32), geography (30), history (13), economics (10) and Iranian studies (8). Some sectors are divided internally - for example, Islamic, Arabic, Turkish and Iranian Studies may form part of linguistics and history. There are 24 centres which have a minimum of 5 researchers, based in 17 different cities. It is worth noting that Berlin has five separate centres, while Hamburg and Mainz each have two. The other principal institutions are based in Bamberg, Freiburg, Tubingen, Munich and Bonn. There is also the German Institute of the Near Orient which is based in Beirut.


    Middle Eastern studies in Belgium have traditionally focussed on `orientalist' subjects of language, culture and history, in addition to archaeology. Contemporary social science research and teaching has been limited. There has not been any concerted attempt to bring together all those interested in the region in a network or organisation. A Flemish-Arab Association was established in the late 1970s, but petered out after a few years. A new Flemish Association of Middle Eastern studies has been mooted under impulse of Prof. Urbain Vermeulen at Leuven University, who joined the EURAMES board, but this again has not yet come to full fruition. It is hoped a more comprehensive Belgian Association of Middle Eastern Studies may be established on the occasion of the EURAMES conference at Ghent, 1999. The main centres for `traditional' Middle Eastern studies include Louvain-la-Neuve, Leuven, and Ghent, including only a few individuals each, with some interest also in the universities of Mons and Brussels. In contemporary Middle East affairs, the numbers are even smaller ­ although there are perhaps some 5 individuals of professorial rank, plus perhaps twice as many `assistants', at these five universities. These are in particular at Louvain-la-Neuve (with Prof. Khader's Centre d'Etudes du Monde Arabe Contemporain), and Ghent (with the new Centre for Middle East Studies of Prof. Doom), in addition to Prof. Vermeulen (Leuven & Gent), Prof. Anciaux (Université Libre de Bruxelles), and Prof. Safar (Mons). It should be noted, though, that no systematic survey has been undertaken.


    Sociedad Española de estudios árabes

    ("Los estudios arabes e islamicos en Espana" - Murcia 1996)

    This work cites 260 researchers and university staff whose speciality is known. The most important universities and research centres are as follows: the two universities in Madrid (Autonoma and Complutense), Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza and universities in the south of the country such as Sevilla, Alicante, Almeria, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Jaen and Malaga. The work outlines course composition. Turkish and Iranian studies are not mentioned.


    Association Française pour l'étude du Monde Arabe et Musulman (AFEMAM)

    The reference work here is "L'annuaire des chercheurs et enseignants" which was published by AFEMAM in November 1993, comprising 380 pages. Although somewhat out of date, it still provides a good overview of the French position. It contains 781 names, most of which are of individuals based in universities, but also including journalists, some students and others with an interest in the Middle East. The directory points to 78 specialists grouped into six categories. Most are members of AFEMAM.

    The categories are as follows:

    • Language, linguistics and literature: 283 individuals, of whom 89 are listed under Arabic language, 21 under Turkish and 14 under Iranian;
    • Islamic studies: 218, of whom 41 are listed under Islamic sects, 29 under popular Islam and 28 under Sufism;
    • History - 410
    • The Muslim World - 681, including geography (55), economics (46), demographics (85), urban studies (64), political science (67), international relations (62), sociology (136)
    • Art and archaeology - 155
    • Cultural problems, teaching - 242
    The main teaching and research centres are as follows:

    Paris I, Paris III, Paris IV, Paris VII and Paris X, together with EPHE (École pratique des hautes études), EHESS (École des hautes études en sciences sociales), INALCO, Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales

    Outside Paris:
    Aix en Provence - the Universities of Aix-Marseille I, Aix-Marseille III and IREMAM; at Lyon there is the University of Lyon II and the Maison de l'Orient; at Tours there is the University and URBAMA and the University of Strasbourg I.

    There are also 'instituts' which are based outside France, but have affiliations with local institutions and have many active researchers. Under this category come IFAO (Institut français d'archéologie orientale) and CEDEJ (Centre d'études economiques et juridiques) in Cairo, CERMOC (Centre d'études et de recherches sur le Moyen Orient contemporain) at Beyrouth, IFEA (Institut français d'études arabes) in Damascus, IFEA (Institut français d'études anatoliennes) in Istanbul, IRMC (Institut de recherches sur le Maghreb contemporain) in Tunis and CFEY (Centre français d'études yemenites in San'a). .

    Great Britain

    British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES)

    BRISMES has 750 members, a number of whom are non-British members. The majority of teaching and research takes place in universities. The most important institutions, having at least 10 individuals specialising in this area are found in London, where there are four (SOAS, Westminster, L.S.E. and University College). Outside London the main universities are Exeter, Cambridge, Oxford (St Antony's College), Manchester, Leeds, Durham, Edinburgh and St Andrews. Each centre has its own library, but the most important source of oriental material is to be found in the British Library in London.

    For greater detail see the BRISMES Directory of members, published in 1993.


    Società di studi sul medio oriente (SeSaMo)

    There is no directory of members produced for the Italian association, which does not specifically list researchers under this category. The study of oriental languages, such as history, is generally undertaken in the universities, notably those in Perugia, Florence, Milan, Turin, Palermo and Rome. Some political science institutions teach Arabic and have an interest in the Arab-Islamic world - notably Florence.

    There are also some specialist institutions - mainly in Rome, where there is the Istituto per l'Oriente, Istituto di Studi su Africa e Oriente which have 150 members, the Pontificio Instituto di Studi arabi e islamici. There are also the Istituto Orientale in Naples and the Istituto de Studi orientali in Venice. These two establishments have very good specialist libraries.

    Vereniging voor de studie van het Midden-oosten en de islam Netherlands


    There are around 100 orientalists in universities - most of whom are involved in 'traditional' teaching - such as linguistics, literature and history. There is also a group of around 50 political scientists. MOI is the main professional organisation involved in Arabic-Islamic studies. It currently has 300 members. The main research centres are in the Universities of Amsterdan, Groningen, Leiden, Nijmegen and Utrecht. The best library is in Leiden.


    Middle Eastern Studies in Poland - Directory of Members, Warsaw 1997 (77 pages)

    This directory contains 109 individual entries but is by no means complete. The division of specialisms is on the lines of the AFEMAM directory - with researchers coming under 41 categories - the most important of which are as follows:

    • Art and archaeology - 36
    • Anthropology, sociology - 25
    • Language and culture studies - 89, of whom 35 are listed under Arabic studies, 14 under Iranian studies and 18 under Turkish studies
    • History - 45
    • Language and literature - 61
    • Economy and political science - 30

    Nordic countries

    Nordisk selskap for Midtaustenstudiar

    This society groups together Middle East scholars from four countries - Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden wihtout distinction between the nationalities. The Nordic society comprises around 80 per cent of scholars in the field in these countries. It publishes as Directory of Middle Eastern Studies in the Nordic countries every three years, the last edition is from 2001. The 253 scholars listed are mainly university staff (154) and research students (99). The division by category is as follows:
    • Social Sciences:
      • Anthropology (38),
      • Political science (20)
      • Sociology (8)
    • Human Sciences:
      • Arabic (56),
      • Islamic Studies (42),
      • History (31)
      • Persian (7),
      • Turkish (4)
    Each university has the following number of researchers:
    • Sweden - Uppsala (22), Lund (20), Gothenburg (15), Stockholm (13), other (12)
    • Denmark - Copenhagen (23), Aarhus (12), Odense (10), other (12)
    • Norway - Bergen (28), Oslo (28), other (19)
    • Finland - Helsinki (16), Tampere (5), other (7)
    The best libraries are the University library of Uppsala and the Royal Library in Copenhagen.


    Schweizerische Gesellschaft Mittlerer Osten und Islamische Kulturen
    Société Suisse Moyen Orient et Civilisation Islamique
    Società Svizzera Medio Oriente e Civiltà Islamica

    There are two specialist associations based in Switzerland:

    La Société Suisse-Asia which was established in 1939 and has around 200 members. This is mainly active in Zürich.

    La Société Suisse Moyen Orient et Civilisation islamique - established in 1990 which also has around 200 members, of whom around half are teachers in universities and students and a quarter are journalists. This is based in Bern.

    Research is funded by FNSRS (Fonds national suisse pour la recherche scientifique) but it is allocated regionally and given mainly to universities. These are based in Zürich and Basel, but especially in Geneva and Bern which also boasts the main specialist library.


    The diversity and variety of the information provided makes a global summary or European resources in the social sciences dealing with the Arab-Islamic world very difficult. However, each European country allocates significant resources into study in this field. This may seem normal for those countries like France and Spain, or Italy and Britain which have well-established links with the Middle East. However, the importance given to this area of study in Germany and Poland, not to mention the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland is quite surprising. This is where there is a positive element which reflects dynamism in the researchers and their interests in this area of study.

    A very rough estimation would indicate around 3,000 people who study the Arab-Islamic world under the umbrella of the social sciences and humanities in Europe - manly based in universities. It does not seem worthwhile trying to establish a clearer division by discipline and geographical region of the researchers. However, it is possible to take the overview and form the opinion that EURAMES could and should play an essential role in bringing researchers together.

    Translated from the French by BRISMES. Additional information by G. Nonneman (BRISMES Director).

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