Research Initiatives

Pluralism and Community in the Middle East

Scholars and policy makers, struggling to make sense of the ongoing chaos that is the Middle East, have been focusing their attention on the possible causes for the escalation of both inter-state and intra-state conflict. This region bears the legacy of multiple imperial excursions and has traditionally demonstrated pronounced ethno-linguistic richness, religious diversity, and a depth of cultural intermingling. The region has historically hosted multiple populations with distinctive ethnic and linguistic identities, preserved in previous eras under the loosely structured administrative bodies of different empires that were, as a result of their sprawling geography, multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural. In order to explore some of these areas mentioned above, the CIRS research initiative “Pluralism and Community in the Middle East” will adopt a multi-disciplinary approach. Over the course of the year, a small number of scholars will be invited to take part in an in-depth, scholarly analysis aiming to address the critical gaps in the current literature. The final outcome of this project will be in the form of an edited volume.

Inside the Arab State

This research initiative is designed to examine some of the central questions facing scholars of Middle Eastern politics concerning the nature of the post-2011 state in the Arab world. These questions revolve around the very conception of the state, its functions and institutions, its sources of legitimacy, and basic notions underlying it such as sovereignty and nationalism.

Geopolitics of Natural Resources in the Middle East

This research initiative explores the geopolitics of natural resources in the Middle East. Hydrocarbons, petroleum and now increasingly natural gas, have long dominated discussions of the Middle East’s natural resources, particularly in terms of their impact on domestic, regional and international politics. Little concerted attention has been paid to the broader environmental parameters of the Middle East. This initiative constitutes an attempt to expand the focus to include the region’s many other natural resources, for example land, air, water, and food, but also study the regional environment as a whole, rather than merely the resources extracted from it. As such it adopts a holistic approach, attempting to integrate the study of the region’s diverse natural resources, its environmental constraints, and their various impacts on geopolitics.

Image still from Suzannah Mirghani short film Hind's Dream taken at Richard Serra sculptures in Qatar

Much of the research on "Art and Cultural Production in the Gulf" tends to focus on the rapidly growing museum culture and the acquisition of foreign art as indicative of several Gulf states' use of oil revenue. Over the past fifteen years, Khaleeji culture has been inundated by rapid demographic, economic, and social changes that continue to challenge the more traditional customs and values. At present, rapid development in the GCC states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) has not only affected social and political institutions underpinning Gulf societies, but also artistic and cultural institutions and their undertakings. In line with this, CIRS has launched a research initiative to provide further insight into the relationships and connections between the Gulf states and the art and cultural industries that exist within these societies. 

China and the Middle East CIRS Working Group

With the disintegration of the region’s traditionally strong states of Iraq and Syria, the constriction of Iran, and the loss of Egypt’s capacity to assert any real influence or project power, there appears to be little capacity within the Middle East and North Africa to address regional conflagrations. China’s engagements and intentions in the Middle East have increasingly become the focus of a range of academic and policy studies. Much of the existing scholarship has viewed Chinese engagements in the Middle East through the lens of security, with particular attention being paid to the implications of China’s interactions for the United States and its allies. However, China’s evolving relationship in the region ought to be principally viewed as an outcome of its own interests in securing its energy needs and developing export markets, as well as the fact that it has become a significant global power and cannot afford to divorce itself from events in the Arab world. In the 2014-2015 academic year CIRS has launched a new research initiative on “China and the Middle East.” The purpose of this project is to examine the unfolding relationship between China and the Middle East using a multi-disciplinary lens. The intention of this project is to provide an analytical study of the relationship between China and the countries of the Middle East, not only through the lenses of international security, energy, economics and investments, but also taking into account China’s broader engagements with the region in the social and cultural spheres as well.

The Great Game Map

Contemporary West Asia is typically portrayed as a region of fragility, plagued by lingering interstate conflict, ridden with the fallout from unresolved territorial disputes, and unsettled by the persistence of ethnic and religious identities which do not easily align with the creation of strong nation-states. In addition, persistent and debilitating authoritarian rule, the lack of political participation, and slow economic growth all cast their shadows on these states. Currently, the region has re-emerged as an area of geostrategic significance because of complex circumstances evolving in the Caucasus which have global implications.  In addition, the region draws extensive external attention due to its access to energy resources, and particularly to its crucial role in existing and planned pipelines that provide gas to Europe and elsewhere. The events of 2011, while primarily involving only a small number of Arab states in the Middle East, have induced a sense that there is a global necessity to move towards more participatory forms of governance and to address outstanding issues of identity politics that undermine domestic, regional, and international stability. In line with this, in the 2014-2015 academic year CIRS has launched a new research initiative to provide further insight into the complex relationships and connections between the states of West Asia in geographic, political and socio-cultural terms.

Youth in the Middle East

CIRS launched a multi-disciplinary research initiative in collaboration with Silatech to explore the ways in which youth manage and respond to various socio-economic and political constraints across the region. As many of the region’s youth are contending with the effects of social and economic exclusion, this project explores the ways in which youth manage and respond to various socio-economic and political constraints across the region, as well as the potentials of policy to support youth. Toward this end, attention is given to the diversity of youth and socio-economic and politics contexts across the region. Additionally, this research initiative examines the ways in which Middle Eastern youth collectively regenerate a new consciousness and forge novel methods of mobilization.

The Digital Middle East

This research initiative will explore access to the digital realm in the Middle East, how the internet and digital ICTs are being utilized by various actors, the materiality and context in which they are being used, and how these instruments can be used for individual, local, national, and global social, economic, and political transformations. The social, economic, and political aspects of the diffusion of digital technologies in the Middle East are of increasing importance to understanding the region at both the macro-level and at the level of the individual and how it affects daily life.

Click here to read more about another related CIRS research initiative, "Politics and the Media in the Post-Arab Spring Middle East."

The Gulf Family

The purpose of this CIRS research initiative is to better understand how structural and ideational forces of change have been reflected in the everyday lives of Gulf families. Few studies have explored the challenges facing the Gulf family in the context of the global forces at play in the Gulf region. In an effort to understand how structural and ideational forces of change have been reflected in the everyday lives of Gulf families, CIRS launched this grant-funded multi-disciplinary research initiative to explore questions related to this topic. 

The Changing Security Dynamics of the Persian Gulf

This CIRS project scrutinizes the ways in which domestic security threats in the region are evolving, and how newer challenges related to human security are being reinforced by—and in some ways actually replacing—military threats emanating from regional and outside actors. Academic interest in Persian Gulf security has continued to focus on traditional notions of zero-sum security threats emanating from Iran or Iraq, or the role of the United States. There has been limited exploration of the deeper, structural issues which threaten the region. In line with this, in the 2014-2015 academic year CIRS launched a new research initiative on "The Changing Security Dynamics of the Persian Gulf." The purpose of this project is to scrutinize the ways in which domestic security threats in the region are evolving, and how newer challenges related to human security are being reinforced by—and in some ways actually replacing—military threats emanating from regional and outside actors. This project brings together a number of distinguished scholars to examine a variety of relevant topics.