Bernard Lewis & other scholars who formed new Middle East studies group hold first conference





Islamic extremism was the dominant topic this past weekend at the first conference of a new organization for scholars of the Middle East and Africa. The Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, or Asmea, was formed last fall by two conservative academics as a scholarly counterweight to a much-larger group of Middle East scholars.

One of the new group's founders, Bernard Lewis, serves as its chairman. A professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, he gave the keynote address here at the meeting, where the theme was"Evolution of Islamic Politics, Philosophy, and Culture in the Middle East and Africa: From Traditional Limits to Modern Extremes." Fouad Ajami, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the Johns Hopkins University, is Asmea's other founder and vice president of its academic council. (Mr. Ajami was traveling and did not attend the meeting.)

Mark T. Clark, a professor of political science at California State University at San Bernardino, is president of the association, which has 500 members in 40 countries. He told The Chronicle that he was concerned particularly with the pressures that"political correctness" in academe has put on younger scholars.

"What we think we can bring to the table is an opportunity for those who are untenured, or even tenured, to have a voice, to have an opportunity to participate," said Mr. Clark, who is also director of the National Security Studies center at San Bernardino."We really want to encourage a whole new generation of scholars ... and not just in a literary understanding, but in a conceptual whole."

In large part, the new group is intended to provide an alternative to the Middle East Studies Association, or MESA, which was created in 1966 and which Asmea's founders believe has become too overtly politicized. Mr. Lewis was also a founding member of MESA, which has 2,700 members and an annual meeting (held last November in Montreal) that spanned more than three days and had more than 200 panels and presentations (The Chronicle, November 19, 2007).

Asmea's inaugural meeting was, unsurprisingly, a more modest affair. In addition to Mr. Lewis's keynote address, the group organized six panels and two round-table discussions over two days. A spokesman for the group said just over 200 members attended....



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