Middle East and Islam Focus Cluster


The Middle East and Islam FOCUS cluster deepens students’ understanding of the region from three main disciplinary perspectives: public policy and politics, literature and religion, documentary studies and history.  In no other academic or intellectual context will students receive such a complete, well-rounded overview of the major issues confronting the study of the Middle East and Islam. This FOCUS cluster gives students unique insight into major issues in the field, as well as a thorough introduction to Islam, the Middle East, and U.S. policy in the region. Students will emerge from this cluster with a firm grasp of the main issues confronting the study of the region, its history, culture, politics, and religions.

Nothing could be more important at this particular juncture in history, as the United States carves out its own role in global politics vis-à- vis the Middle East. The cluster will help students understand the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, the Palestine-Israel conflict, ongoing tensions with Iran and Syria, the Arab spring in Egypt and Tunisia, and changing relations with Turkey and Pakistan. Moreover, we explore the issue of Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees and of the Muslim diaspora within the U.S.’s own borders—and across the world.

Students will cultivate a clear understanding of how the Middle East and Islam have played crucial roles in the development of human civilization, and continue to play a critical role in the development of human culture both inside the United States and far beyond its borders. This FOCUS cluster comes at a time where the Middle East and Islam are of critical importance to understanding our global future, as well as our global past.

Our FOCUS courses will help deepen and complicate students’ knowledge of the main issues confronting the region through in depth study. This serves as an invaluable tool facilitating any number of academic trajectories, whether in Public Policy, Political Science, History, Religion, Anthropology, Middle East Studies, or International Comparative Studies. Graduates of the program have gone on to pursue Fulbrights, Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, law degrees, PhD programs, foreign service, and careers in consulting, development, and aid.

Our weekly meetings encompass a wide variety of cultural activities that include performances by Iraqi musicians and Sudanese rappers, talks by experts on Islamic hip hop, poetry readings, documentary films on the Middle East, visits to local mosques, the exhibit on black Muslims at the Durham History Museum, and dinners at faculty homes. We seek to introduce students to the Islam and the Middle East that live in our midst in Durham, in North Carolina, and at Duke, as well as in distant regions of the world. The weekly dinners also include good, old-fashioned open discussion, debate, and sociability as a way for students to get to know each other and their professors, and to understand the issues in a lively, welcome, supportive environment.

For students interested in expanding and deepening their engagement with the Middle East and Islam, the Asian and Middle East Studies Department offers courses of study in the Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, and Hindi languages. Students wishing to further pursue their interest in Middle East politics, international relations, and national security studies may join the American Grand Strategy program. There are also manifold study abroad opportunities, like Duke in the Arab World and DukeEngage immersive programs in Lebanon and Jordan. Please contact the FOCUS cluster director, Dr. Ellen McLarney at ellenmc@duke.edu if you have any questions or need any guidance. We would be more than happy to help. Welcome to the Middle East and Islam FOCUS cluster!

Direct your general questions or comments to:
The Focus Program Office
(919) 684-9370
email: focus@duke.edu