On November 2, the NYUAD Global Studies Colloquium was officially kicked off, with Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab becoming the first of many speakers in the emerging forum of interdisciplinary exchange.
An initiative of the NYUAD faculty, particularly Dean of Social Sciences Ivan Szelenyi and Associate Dean of Arts Mo Ogrodnik, the idea for the colloquium arose from a shared desire to academically explore the political and cultural issues of the MENA region — brought to light by recent events. Supported by the NYUAD Institute, the colloquium aims to host discussions covering the socio-political issues of the MENA region in an open forum, with talks from leading experts, in the pursuit of new understandings of the region and stronger relationships between NYUAD and other universities throughout the Gulf and beyond.
The first event in what promises to be an enlightening series, Kassab's Critique in Contemporary Arab Thought and Politics explored the cultural history of the MENA region, giving context to the recent uprisings. Currently a research fellow at the Berlin Graduate School for Muslim Cultures and Societies of the Free University, Kassab drew on her research and experience during her speech as she divided the past 150 years of regional history into three distinct phases. Characterizing each era by the feelings of the people of the region — as reflected by the literature as well as the political and economical developments of each phase — she imparted some insight into recent events in the MENA region.
For NYUAD students, staff, and faculty, Kassab's talk provided some much needed connection to the often elusive or misunderstood cultural history of the region. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Kassab also spoke on the role of intellectuals in predicting and participating in political reform in the MENA region.
Rory McDougall (NYUAD '15) felt that the colloquium "posed a number of interesting questions about the Arab Spring, in light of the recent fall of Gaddafi and the pressure on Assad in Syria." "It will be interesting to see how these play out in the future," he said.
As the first of many discussions, Kassab's talk did not aim to answer the questions that prompted the colloquium, but rather to explore the context and foundations of Arab thought in the region, providing a solid start to what will undoubtedly be a stimulating series of events.