A detailed history of OPEC, the complexities of land ownership in Kenya, and ethical positions of sonic practices and performance in Morocco — three areas of study being investigated by the first recipients of the NYU Abu Dhabi Humanities Research Fellowship Program — appear to be as far ranging as it gets. In a way, this is precisely the point. The program was established with the aim to create a rich and varied research landscape for the humanities at NYUAD, and to help establish a vibrant intellectual community, fed by and invigorated by research.
"You could say the whole fellowship program is kind of a research laboratory," said NYUAD's Vice Provost for Intellectual and Cultural Outreach Reindert Falkenburg. "A laboratory in which each individual scholar pursues his or her own research goals, but as a whole, they are contributing to the intellectual landscape of our institution — shaping it, profiling it, and giving it areas of strength."
The humanities include a range of academic disciplines that contemplate, study, and document the human experience; in addition to NYUAD's main academic fields of philosophy, history, and literature, the humanities in the broader sense cross over into areas of the arts and social sciences. The program, led by Falkenburg and Lauren Benton, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science of NYU New York, is designed to both complement existing areas of research and create new ones by integrating scholars with a strong interest in the region and specific thematic research interests into the NYUAD community.
The program aims to build research capacity in areas of the humanities that are relevant for the study of the Arab world — its rich intellectual, religious, and scientific history; its cultural and artistic heritage; and its interaction with other cultures.
The fellowship program annually includes one or two senior fellows who are well established in the international academic community and experts in their respective fields. "These are people who are able to act as a pivot for groups of other scholars and professors, who can establish small centers of research in certain areas that NYUAD can become known for throughout the world," Falkenburg explained.
…as a whole, [the fellows] are contributing to the intellectual landscape of our institution — shaping it, profiling it, and giving it areas of strength.
The first senior fellow appointed in the spring of 2014, Giuliano Garavini from the University of Padua in Italy, is one such academic. Author of the book After Empires: European Integration, Decolonization, and the Challenge from the Global South 1957-1985, Garavini is now at NYUAD writing a comprehensive history of OPEC from its inception to the present day.
There will also be up to four junior fellowships available each year for recent PhD graduates who will focus on researching and writing their first books, often based on their doctoral dissertations. The fellowship period is dependent on the individual scholar and may range from one semester to two years. Fellowships will also be available to PhD students from NYU New York to complete dissertations that thematically relate to the Arab world, its culture, history, and literature.
Two doctoral candidates at NYU New York are currently conducting research for their dissertations as the first junior fellows in the program. Anna Reidy is completing her dissertation "Sound of Heart, Sound of Suffering: An Historical Ethnography of Ethics, Acoustics and Civic Life in Modern Tangier," which examines the relationship between sonic practices of ethical self-cultivation — such as vocal prayer, sound-cataloging, or musical listening — and civic deliberation. Reynolds Richter is examining the complicated practices of claiming land ownership in coastal Kenya as they evolved from colonial to postcolonial times — practices that are based on native traditions of customary law but at the same time are exposed to the demands of Islamic or Western legal systems.
Active involvement with NYUAD and local and regional academic communities is an important component of the program. Along with NYUAD faculty, UAE scholars, and other invited speakers, the fellows participate in humanities research seminars during which their work is discussed critically.
"We hope to attract scholars that are not just conducting their research and writing their books and articles in a productive fashion, but those who are open to actively engage with the wider academic community at NYUAD," Falkenburg emphasized. "When I think of what we are trying to build, I imagine a landscape in which our fellows help to carve out striking silhouettes of mountains and hills in the horizon of NYUAD's future research."
This article originally appeared in NYUAD's 2013-14 Research Report (13MB PDF).