Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies

The Middle East in Bergen

After having for a generation been the primary focus of the University of Bergen's non-European research, the Middle East milieu in 2000 faced a number of new challenges. For years, political developments in our 'core area', the Sudan, had made it increasingly difficult to maintain the level of interchange with that country. Although close relations remain with the Sudan and Sudanese colleagues, interests have started to diversify inside Islamic Africa, and a new focus of interest in the Indian Ocean region has developed.

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At the same time, winds of change was starting to blow over Norwegian universities. In 2000, these were still on the level of plans and proposals rather than finalized programs, and their net effect remained to be seen. The Middle East milieu however focused on the opportunities for greater flexibility and inter-departmental co-operation both in teaching and research. Having already pioneered such co-operation for a decade, it spent the year planning ahead for how to exploit these opportunities.

On the more local level, 2000 also marked the end of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies' ten-year long residence at our house in Parkv. 22a. In 2002, we plan to move with several other non-European-oriented research centres into a shared locality, for increased practical and academic co-operation; until then the Middle East centre has a temporary location in the Arabic department's old locales.

History of the milieu

The early developments in Middle Eastern research in Bergen took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which the role of the anthropological milieu around Professor Fredrik Barth and his work on Iran and the Sudan was fundamental. However, it soon transpired that several scholars had independently developed an interest in the Middle East, and in particular the Sudan. As this milieu grew, initiatives were made to co-ordinate and support these efforts. This came into fruition in the mid-late 1980s, in particular through the support and initiative of the late Director of the University, Magne Lerheim. It led to the establishment of two research Centres concerned with the area, the Centre for Development Studies in 1986 and the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in 1988. The tasks of these two are different; the CDS covers all of the developing world, although the University's preoccupation with the Middle East is felt also in the CDS; thus both its directors to date have been Sudan specialists. The CDS has been a project-oriented centre, which has sought finance from and to a large extent carried out projects for, external clients.

The Middle East Centre (SMI) is on the other hand basically a service centre for the research milieu at the University. It aims to co-ordinate the research interest of the various individual Middle East-oriented scholars at the various departments in the faculties of Arts and Social Science, and develop an inter-departmental Middle East milieu from them. It shall also function as a 'face' for the research vis-à-vis the outside world, as well as a point of contact for this world to the Middle East scholars in Bergen. Thus, the Centre's own staff is minimal, a director and a part-time secretary, but it does provide space for guest professors as well as research fellows and associates from Bergen and abroad.