Lessons for the Contemporary 'Area Studies' Controversy
The 'Arab Spring' added new fuel to the ongoing controversy over the validity of regional or area studies. None of the Middle East 'area experts' predicted the revolutionary events that led to the fall of a number of authoritarian rulers in the Arab world. As a result, scholars, the media and policy-makers have again questioned the public relevance and scientific nature of Middle East studies. Do they actually provide the basis for an understanding of the real world? To address this issue, this article considers a historical case study with a view to throwing light on this debate and putting it in perspective. It looks more closely at a debate between two founding fathers of Islamic studies. After the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet V declared jihad against the Entente powers in 1914, Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje and Carl-Heinrich Becker disputed the role allegedly played by German Orientalists in this affair. The article would argue that this historical dispute already reflected some of the core issues of the contemporary controversy of 'area studies' and contained some lessons for us to learn regarding the analysis of Middle Eastern economy, society and politics.
British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 2014, Vol 41, Issue 3, p. 247-265