The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a two-year grant of $350,000 to UCLA to support a pilot project seeking to reframe how Middle Eastern studies are conceptualized and taught.
The grant will fund workshops, faculty-graduate student research groups and a major conference to inform the development of new curricula and teaching models on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that can be shared with other universities, community colleges, high schools and the general public.
“The Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA is honored to receive this generous grant from the Mellon Foundation,” said Ali Behdad, director of CNES and the John Charles Hillis Professor of Literature in English. “This pilot program will provide a historical, legal and political overview and analysis of ethnic and religious minorities in MENA with the aims of broadening our understanding of the region and helping to transform scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and Africa,” he stated.
Behdad is a veteran of curriculum review and redesign, having overseen an overhaul of the UCLA English department as its former chair. This earlier effort, also funded by the Mellon Foundation, resulted in new and innovative courses that drew on the breadth and expertise of the department’s interdisciplinary faculty.
The new university-wide curricular project aims to use a similarly innovative approach to involve UCLA faculty and graduate students across campus, as well as leaders of Middle Eastern centers at other universities and non-academic members of the Los Angeles MENA community, in fostering a better public understanding of the region. This will be achieved in the classroom through new undergraduate and graduate courses for UCLA students designed with a new framework for pedagogy and learning, and outside the classroom through engaging students directly with local MENA community members and cultural events.
“The complexities of the modern Middle East are grounded in histories and cultures that are poorly understood in the U.S. This initiative will advance our understanding of this critical region through both curricular innovations and a new way of framing Middle East studies,” explained Behdad. “And at a time when government funding for Middle East programs is diminishing and public demand for expertise is increasing, the need to foster better understanding of the region has never been greater.”