Europe and the Middle East (Birgit Schäbler)

Three research projects were generated within the larger framework of “Europe and the Middle East” during the last year. First, concerning my recent book Moderne Muslime. Ernest Renan und die Geschichte der ersten Islamdebatte 1883, which brought together the issues of 19th century transregional reform movements in the Muslim world/Islam and Orientalist discourses in Europe, an English translation of the book is in the making. A translation into Arabic was commissioned following the suggestions of colleagues after an inaugural public lecture given at the OIB. The texts by Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Namik Kemal and Ataullah Bajazitov in the book are not known at all in the Arab world. Apart from these projects, Ernest Renan and his exploits in Lebanon are still on my research agenda, as are global Islamic reform movements.

The second project concerns relations of knowledge and the space they create. It is well known that tens of thousands of students from the Middle East went to study in the former Eastern Bloc. The Eastern Bloc is a space created by a common ideology, an "ideoscape" (Appadurai). The project “Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc (1950s–1991)” traces and studies the complex relationships which were forged through the mobility/migration of students from the Middle East and North Africa to these countries (PPR, CSSR, GDR, USSR). These relationships have often been highly persistent, far beyond the end of the Cold War. The political topicality and high relevance of such a relationship is in some cases obvious today. With the opening of the archives in Russia and other countries of the former Eastern Bloc, research is now possible alongside private archives and oral history in the countries of the Middle East. The research project is part of a larger project of the Max Weber Foundation. It is funded by the German ministry of Education and Research.

Third, the topic of “neighborhood–neighborliness” is an especially apt topic not only for the quarter in which the OIB is located, Zokak al-Blat, but also for Beirut and Lebanon at large. Neighbourhood relations differ from other kinds of relations in that they are primarily defined by space. It is spatial closeness which defines neighbours and neighbourhoods. What is more, the spatial relation is more or less an enforced one – in most cases neighbours are not chosen. They are already there when people move and newly arrive (except in large migration movements). The concept of "neighborliness" captures both the social and the spatial aspect perfectly and has not been studied much. It can very fruitfully be analyzed in transregional and global perspectives, with a special focus on encounters with Europe.

Author: Prof. Dr. Birgit Schäbler