The Middle East and the Islamic World in the Mirror of Humanities and Social Sciences

Joint International Conference at Ruhr University, 24–26 September 2015
22nd International Conference of DAVO
1st Section Conference of the Islamic Studies Section of DMG

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This year’s 22nd congress of the DAVO,  an international and interdisciplinary network of about 1500 scholars, students and professionals interested in the Middle East, took place for the first time in cooperation with the Islamic Studies Section of the German Oriental Society (DMG) at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB).

It was geared towards providing a forum for methodological exchange between the different disciplines of the Humanities and Social Sciences in their research on the historical and contemporary Middle East and the Islamic World. In addition, the joint DAVO/DMG Congress coincided with the 4th PhD Conference on International Development  hosted by the RUB Institute of Development Research and Development Policy (IEE).

About 400 scholars from all over the world participated in this international congress which was organized by Prof. Stefan Reichmuth (RUB and chair of the DMG-Islamic Studies Section, Prof. Günter Meyer (President of DAVO), Dr. Anja Zorob (IEE, RUB) and Amke Dietert (Secretary General of DAVO).

Panel Discussion and Evening Lecture

The distressing situation in Syria was in the focus of the first evening with a panel discussion on “Syria & Beyond: The Quest for Power and Survival” with distinguished international experts. Raymond Hinnebusch, Professor of International Relations and Middle East Studies and Director of the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St. Andrews, started the discussion with an introduction on possible “Scenarios for Syria” in the near future stretching from a ‘survival’ of the Assad regime backed by a Russian intervention to the former’s collapse and accompanying emergence of a sectarian state and stabilization of the ISIS. Next on the panel was Sadik al-Azm, Professor of Modern European Philosophy who served in the past at different universities including Damascus and Princeton University. Professor al-Azm delivered a speech on “The Debate about Daʾesh” in which he scrutinized foreign powers’ motives behind the war in Syria. Dr. Carsten Wieland, a German diplomat and MENA political analyst reflected on his experiences as a Political Affairs Officer in the Office of the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, at the UN in 2014. In his presentation “Between Geneva II and Geneva III: The Desperate Search for a Political Solution” he came to the conclusion that during Geneva II was the last time that the parties discussed Syria as a whole while the current situation was more complex and fragmented, and any kind of future peace deal would most likely be valid in some areas of the country only. Some parties would never come to the negotiating table in the first place, above all IS. In addition, he pointed out that the installation of a security or no-fly zone in the Northern part of Syria, which could be a way of giving shelter for internally displaced, has become more difficult since it would have to be enforced against ever more armed players in Syria, and since it is no longer a humanitarian project only but linked to geo-political agendas. Finally, Fred Lawson, Professor of Government at Mills College, Oakland, USA, delivered a march through the existing political and social science literature on war and conflict. He highlighted that there would be no guiding theory capable of explaining why and how a popular uprising which at least initially conveyed the impression to be somehow a democratic movement transformed into a sectarian civil war and offered suggestions where future research could head to. The discussion was chaired by Anja Zorob.

The plenary session of the second evening was dedicated to an historical topic with the key- note speech of Maribel Fierro from Madrid University about “The Politics of Knowledge in al-Andalus and the Maghrib”. The focus was on the scholarly communication of the 11th/12th century which was shaped by the shifting dynastic and religious centers of power, especially the role played by the famous Maghribi author al-Qadi Iyad (d. 1149) and his reshaping of the historical tradition of the Maliki school in North Africa in the face of its adversaries, and his standardizing of the image of the Prophet which exerted a decisive influence on Muslim piety of the following centuries.

The Conference

During the whole conference a wide spectrum of issues was discussed in about 40 panels.The subjects of the presentations ranged from classical Islamic studies to economy and included studies on urban development, the policy of the EU towards the states of the Middle East and North Africa after the “Arab Spring”, as well as current research on Salafist movements. One important and much-discussed issue was the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which was seen as putting a serious threat to the whole of the Middle East. Other panels dealt with specific countries, i.e. Tunisia, Israel, Iran and of course Syria. The situation in Turkey was analyzed in three different panels, dealing with historic and current developments, with the changing role and impact of Kemalism and with new trends in the research on Muslim religiosity.

The Workshop for Young Scholars attracted very much interest this year. 20 PhD-candidates presented their studies to an interdisciplinary plenum in five panels. The workshop has been a well-established and part of the congress for more than 10 years where young scholars have the opportunity to present their work in progress. The discussions aim to give a feedback on methodological approaches, reflect research questions and to offer new external input by experienced researchers.

During this international congress, the outstanding dissertations of three young scholars from different disciplines in the field of Middle East research were honored with the DAVO Dissertation Award 2015:

  • Judith Bihr (Art History, University of Cologne): “Models of Ambivalence. Ornamental Structures in the Contemporary Egyptian Art”.
  • Philipp Bruckmayr (Oriental Studies, University of Vienna): „The Contentious Pull of the Malay Logosphere: Jawization and Factionalism among Cambodian Muslims (Late 19th to Early 21st Centuries)”.
  • Philipp Bruckmayr (Oriental Studies, University of Vienna): „The Contentious Pull of the Malay Logosphere: Jawization and Factionalism among Cambodian Muslims (Late 19th to Early 21st Centuries)”.

The research award of the Annemarie Schimmel Foundation for Islamic Studies was awarded to Britta Frede for her pioneering dissertation on “The Renewal of the Tijaniyya in Mauretania. Popularization of Religious Concepts in the Colonial Period“, a study which combined a broad survey of the social and cultural development of Colonial Mauretania with an in-depth analysis of the religious concepts and practices propagated and spread by the Tijaniyya Sufi order.

4th PhD Conference on International Development

Together with the School of International Development (DEV), the University of East Anglia, UK, the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) at Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Hague, NL, as well as the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF) and the Institute of Political Science (IfP) at the University Duisburg-Essen, the Institute of Development Research and Development Policy (IEE) has initiated a series of annual PhD Conferences on International Development in 2012. At this year’s PhD Conference more than 35 doctoral students and recent graduates presented their work as part of five different workshops The 4th PhD Conference also marked the kick-off of the new German-Arab Joint Research, Training and Networking Program “From Responsibility to Protect to Responsibility to Assist: Conflict, Reconstruction, and Sustainable Development in the Middle East” (for more information see In addition to the new PhD students, Prof. Dr. Mahasen Al-Jaghoub from the Faculty of Law at The University of Jordan and Prof. Dr. Sami Baroudi from the School of Arts and Sciences at the Lebanese American University attended the conference as the IEE’s partners in the German-Arab Joint Program. The PhD Conference was organized by Dr. Anja Zorob, Coordinator of the PhD Program in International Development Studies and Directing Manager of the German-Arab Joint Program at the IEE.

The organizers of both international congresses express their gratitude to Ruhr University which hosted the conference as an international contribution to the celebration of its 50th anniversary.

  • Günter Meyer
  • Stefan Reichmuth
  • Amke Dietert
  • Anja Zorob