Middle East & North Africa region | University of Oxford
Amun Temple
Amun Temple of Luxor, Egypt.
(Image credit: Shutterstock).

Middle East & North Africa region

The establishment of the Laudian Professorship of Arabic in 1636 marked the beginning of the University of Oxford’s tradition of scholarship and teaching in Arabic. Today, Oxford is one of the leading centres in the English-speaking world for the study of the Middle East, with more than 50 academics in Arabic language and literature, medieval and modern Near East History, Islamic Philosophy, Islamic Art & Archaeology, and ancient Egypt and the Near East. Oxford’s research in the Middle East is based in two key hubs: the Faculty of Oriental Studies and the Middle East Centre.

Oriental Studies

Oriental Studies is home to a range of undergraduate courses and graduate programmes focused on the region and Islam. Undergraduate courses include Arabic language and culture and Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies. Students in Arabic spend a year studying in the Middle East; a popular option has been the French Institute in Damascus.

Oxford is also a leading centre for postgraduate study of the Arab World, with more than 75 students focused on the ancient and modern Middle East.  About half of these are studying for a doctorate, while the other half are enrolled in taught Master’s degree courses.

Hebrew and Jewish Studies

Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Oxford take place in the Faculty of Oriental Studies and through the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Yarnton. Oxford is an important centre of Hebrew and Jewish Studies and has been since the sixteenth century. Students come from all over the world for both undergraduate and graduate studies, and there are unrivalled collections of Hebrew and Yiddish manuscripts and printed books in the Bodleian Library.

Courses available to students range from the Hebrew Bible to modern Israel, from developments within Judaism in the time of Jesus to the history of Jews under Islam or in modern Europe, from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Modern Hebrew poetry.

King Mohammed VI Fellowship in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies

The King Mohammed VI Fellowship in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies was established in 2004 as the fruit of an agreement between the Moroccan British Society (MBS) and St Antony’s College, Oxford University. As well as strengthening and promoting Moroccan-British ties, the new Fellowship aimed to promote study of Morocco in Britain through the endowment by the MBS of an academic position at Oxford.

Several new academic courses related to Morocco and the Mediterranean have now been introduced at Oxford: North African Politics, The History of the Maghreb Since 1830 and International Relations of the Maghreb, all of which are available as options on the MPhil in Modern Middle East studies.

Middle East Centre

The Middle East Centre of St Antony’s College, founded in 1957 and one of the first of its kind at a Western university, is a hub for the interdisciplinary study of the modern Middle East.  The Centre’s library and archive has exceptional resources, and houses over 400 document collections and well over 100,000 photographs.

The Centre recently received a £1 million benefaction from the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Archives and Manuscripts in Riyadh, and is deeply involved with the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, a cultural award which is presented annually to outstanding Arab writers, intellectuals, publishers, and young talents whose writings and translations have enriched Arab cultural, literary and social life.

Oxford is fortunate to have received generous financial contributions from friends in the region to support the work of the University’s students. Thanks to the generous support of Sheikh Yousef Abdul Latif Jameel of Saudi Arabia, a scholarship programme has been established to support a fully funded graduate place based in the Faculty of Oriental Studies.

The Yousef Jameel Scholarship is available to one graduate student demonstrating exceptional academic merit and/or potential, commencing a course of study in the history of Islamic art. Oxford benefits from a range of research and resource centres that support and serve as a focal point for those focusing their research on the Middle East and Islamic culture.

Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies is a Recognised Independent Centre of the University of Oxford, established in 1985 to encourage the scholarly study of Islam and the Islamic world. The Centre provides a meeting point for the Western and Islamic worlds of learning and contributes to the multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary study of the Islamic world. It has been host to a number of distinguished visiting lecturers from the Middle East including HE Shaikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar; HRH Prince Saud al-Faisal, Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Mr Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States; and Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, historian, Islamic scholar, and author of well over fifty books in various languages.

Additionally, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies Lecturerships have been established in the University Faculties of History, Theology, Anthropology, Politics and International Relations, and Economics. A key indicator of our growing commitment and engagement in the region is the remarkable number of new academic posts that the University has been able to create in recent years relevant to the region, including Islamic Studies, Islamic Art and Architecture, Islamic archaeology, Islamic numismatics (the study of currency), and the Study of the Contemporary Arab World.

Other research centres

Khalili Research Centre

The Khalili Research Centre for the Art and Material Culture of the Middle East provides facilities for research in the field of Middle Eastern art and architecture.

Griffith Institute

The Griffith Institute specializes in Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern studies. It is located within the Sackler Library complex, which holds some 30,000 volumes on these subjects. Its archive is the world’s largest collection of Egyptological papers, including the excavator’s records from the tomb of Tutankhamun and hundreds of 19th-century studio photographs of Egypt and the Levant.

Libraries and Museums

Bodleian Library

The Bodleian Library's Islamic manuscript collection is one of the most important in Europe. It also holds extensive materials in the languages of the Middle East. It has an important collection of Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts, with particular strengths in fields such as Arabic science, mathematics and medicine and Persian illuminated and illustrated manuscripts. The Bodleian law library holds numerous texts and resources on Islamic Law and North African and Middle Eastern law.

The Bodleian holds one of the most important collections of Hebrew manuscripts in the world thanks to accession of several key collections in the 19th century, such as the Oppenheimer Library and fragments from the Cairo Genizah. It also holds important collections of unique early Yiddish printed books.

Ashmolean

The Ashmolean Museum has renowned holdings of art and archaeology from the Middle East and has a dedicated Islamic Middle East Gallery which displays artefacts made over a period of more than 1000 years. These include beautiful examples of Islamic script and calligraphy, arabesque decorations and textiles of the Islamic world.

Oxford links with the Middle East and North Africa extend far beyond the academic study of the region. The University is increasingly forming key partnerships and collaborating with institutions in the region, and in recent years has opened up important new scientific and public policy collaborations with the Arab World.

Oxford’s Mathematics department was chosen to be a partner in one of four Research Centres funded by the Global Research Partnership of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). The award provides a remarkable $25 million over 5 years to create and fund the Oxford Centre for Collaborative Applied Mathematics (OCCAM). In its first two years, the new centre launched more than 40 research projects, published more than 100 papers, and enhanced Oxford’s image as a leading research centre in applied mathematics.

OCCAM and KAUST personnel are also working together closely to help the new university realise its world-class aspirations.  One of the innovative activities coordinated by OCCAM is a series of global study groups which bring together mathematicians from across the world in week-long workshops to work on real applied mathematics problems encountered by industry leaders.

Rachael McDonnell, a Senior Research Fellow at Oxford, is heavily involved in strategic water issues in collaboration with the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai.  She helped to write the Abu Dhabi water master plan, a policy framework adopted by the government in 2009. Many recent important changes in water policy and management have emanated from the plan. She is also working with various national governments within the region to develop strategic policy frameworks for managing saline water and soil systems. Most recently, Dr McDonnell has been involved in writing a World Bank report on Climate Change Adaptation in the MENA region.

In a new project that has recently begun, Dr McDonnell is co-leading a joint programme with NASA to develop a regional hub for a modelling system which generates data on groundwater and surface flow for the Middle East and North Africa which will provide valuable insight to local decision-makers.

With support from the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST), a research funding agency in Riyadh, Professor Pete Edwards and Dr Tiancun Xiao in Chemistry have created the KACST-Oxford Petrochemical Research Collaboration (KOPRC). The partnership both provides funding for joint research projects and visiting researchers, and creates a physical research centre in Oxford’s chemistry department. The partnership has seen considerable early successes, particularly in the area of energy catalysis. As such the KOPRC agreement has now been extended and expanded to include 3 sub-research projects.

The Executive Education team of Saïd Business School has also developed extensive links with the Middle East and North Africa. The School has developed a number of custom programmes for many different countries in the region for delivery to a wide range of audiences including top civil servants and senior business executives. Tailor-made courses have been developed for leading business leaders and public officials in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

Generations for Peace is an international NGO established by HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein of Jordan, and it is dedicated to the innovative and sustainable use of sport for peace building and development. In 2012 it established a new DPhil scholarship at Oxford, the King Abdullah II of Jordan Generations for Peace Scholarship, focused on research into “sport and conflict resolution”.

The Reuters Institute for Journalism, in collaboration with the Saïd Foundation and the Asfari Foundation, is offering a unique opportunity to journalists from Lebanon, Palestine and Syria through the Saïd-Asfari Fellowship scheme. Each year, one journalist from the Levant region is brought to Oxford to study with a group of journalists from all over the world. The fellows attend seminars and occasional special lectures on journalism, and make visits to several major media organisations such as Thomson Reuters and the BBC.  The objectives of the fellowship programme are to strengthen journalism in the Levant and to improve the skill set and networks of journalists working in the region.

See also

Students

Today there are over 200 students from every country in North Africa and the Middle East studying at Oxford, with Egypt, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia the leading sources. The vast majority of students from the region are engaged in postgraduate study and research, especially in the social sciences.

A vibrant student group, the Oxford University Arab Cultural Society, organises public lectures and cultural events for those originating from and those interested in the region. Similarly, the Oxford Chabad Society hosts high profile national and international guest speakers on Jewish and Israeli topics during university terms and holds open Shabbat dinners every Friday night.

Academics

There are nearly 50 academic staff from North Africa and the Middle East currently working at the university with research specialties ranging from art history and classical architecture, to structural biology.

Dr Guy Kahane

Dr Kahane is deputy director and research fellow at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics in Oxford’s faculty of philosophy and also deputy director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics. He specialises in medical ethics, particularly the philosophy and ethics of neuroscience and psychology. In 2009 he was awarded a grant by the Wellcome Trust University Award to undertake a five year research project on ‘Well-being, Consciousness, and Moral Decision-Making’. He is also working on a 3-year project on ‘Intuition and Emotion in Moral Decision-Making: Empirical Research and Normative Implications,’ funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.

Dr Kahane studied for his BA in Philosophy and Psychology at Tel Aviv University before coming to Oxford to read for the BPhil and then the DPhil in Philosophy.

Nesrine Abdel-Sattar

Nesrine Abdel-Sattar, a DPhil student at the Oxford Internet Institute, is currently preparing her doctoral thesis on information, communication and the social sciences at Mansfield College.

Before coming to Oxford, Nesrine led communication-for-development projects for a number of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations in her home country - Egypt - and in the UK. She headed communication campaigns for UNICEF, SureStart, CARE International and recently the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Nesrine has also been the Secretary General of Nahdet El Mahrousa, an Egyptian NGO, since 2006.

Ms Abdel-Sattar grew up in Egypt, and studied for her BA in Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Cairo. She subsequently obtained her MA in Mass Communications from the University of Leicester.

Alumni

Oxford’s alumni base is especially strong in the region, numbering close to 1200. Most live in Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Alumni groups are active in eleven countries. Oxford has a number of distinguished alumni in the region, including:

  •     King Abdullah II of Jordan
  •     Prince Faisal bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia
  •     H.E. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister for Higher Education and Scientific research
  •     Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian-born Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University
  •     Farah Al-Daghistani, Executive Director of the Jordan Hashemite Fund for Human Development.