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"Encouraging students to develop their capacities for critical thinking"

Meet the programme director of Middle Eastern Studies

Rola El-Husseini is a political sociologist with her doctorate from l'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, on the faculty of the Texas A&M University, the University of New York Graduate Center, and previously the Director of Studies at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University. Her research focus has been in political elites, with her first book analysing power-sharing in the Lebanese political system in the post-civil-war period (1989–2005) and Syria’s role in the recruitment of the political elite. She is now interested in issues pertaining to women and working on her second book manuscript which examines women’s political representation in eight Arab countries after the Arab Spring.

Our interview with Rola

What is the most enjoyable part about teaching?

My goal in teaching is to encourage students to develop their capacities for critical thinking and sustained argument, while enhancing their appreciation of diverse viewpoints. For more advanced undergraduates and graduate students, I also want to assist them in developing a firm theoretical foundation for their future intellectual endeavors. Since my subject area is Middle Eastern political cultures, it is imperative that I provide students with the means to critically examine their understanding of the world and to enrich their understanding of other regions. This often involves challenging assumptions about the nature of gender, religion, and politics that are culturally prevalent in Western discourse. 

My teaching occurs not only in the classroom. Actually, most of it occurs through interactions beyond traditional teaching activities. I try to be as available and accessible as I can, I respond to questions by email and happily spend hours discussing, explaining and finding additional resources for students. I like to be able to work with students who are particularly motivated to engage in a topic not discussed in regular courses. I like to take graduate students to conferences to present their work and to learn from attending panels and presentations. 

What's unique about this programme?

It is an interdisciplinary program with scholars from the social sciences, humanities and engineering on the teaching staff. We offer a mix of mandatory and elective courses that introduce students to the major issues pertaining to the Middle East today. In their third semester, students have the opportunity to spend some time in a Middle Eastern country of their choice; they can spend the entire autumn semester studying abroad while working on collecting data, or half the semester doing intensive fieldwork for their thesis.

What will students learn?

Our courses are linked to the research done in the programme. Students can choose to specialize in one or more of our 4 areas of research, namely religion, democratization, migration, and the environment. Each research area is headed by one of the senior lecturers at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies; for example, I lead the democratization research group.   

What kind of career is possible after pursuing this programme?

Students can consider careers in government (diplomacy), international organizations (EU, or UN agencies), civil society organizations or journalism. In the past, we have also had success in placing students in PhD programs, especially in the UK, US and Canada.

Headshot of Rola El-Husseini

Programme Director