Moscow launches an international conference Middle Eastern Studies in Eurasia

On October 20, Moscow launched an international conference called Middle Eastern Studies in Eurasia. The event brought together experts from leading research centers in the Eurasian space which carry out scientific and academic activities, as well as train specialists involved in Middle Eastern studies.

Victoria Karslieva, Executive Director of the Primakov Center, addressed the participants with welcoming remarks,

“The Soviet Union was famous for its tradition of oriental studies, which was considered one of the advanced in the world. Today we have its members here with us: they are all those who continue to conduct Middle Eastern studies, but in their own countries, preserving and enriching the traditions of Soviet Orientalism in this day and age.”

The first working day was held at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, where four panel discussions took place. During the introductory session devoted to the current state of Middle Eastern studies in Eurasia, Vitaly Naumkin, Full Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Scientific Director of the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, mentioned a new explosive growth in Oriental studies in the countries of Eurasia,

“In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the role of Oriental Studies. We witness this in Russia at least, where these studies have had hard time after the collapse of the USSR. Today, the government is well aware of the need for academic science to resolve not only political, but also scientific, social and educational problems.”

The second expert session discussed schools of teaching Middle Eastern languages in Eurasia. Vladimir Lebedev, Deputy Head of the Department of Arabic Philology at the Institute of Asian and African Studies of Lomonosov Moscow State University, shared signature approaches and methods of teaching Arabic and emphasized the special role of teaching and learning aids when studying Arabic,

“A textbook is vital for a student. It allows to feel the whole volume of the material necessary for assimilation in one package and creates a reliable atmosphere for establishing a transparent relationship between tutors and learners regarding the assessment of a performance level. The textbook provides a student with a manageable way out of failure if she or he suddenly ends up there.”

The third session was devoted to the scientific schools of the classical cycle of Middle Eastern studies and the prospects for their development. It was attended by Nargiz Akhundova, Full Member of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences (ANAS), Academic Secretary of the Department of Social Sciences of ANAS, noted the importance of adapting the classical cycle of Middle Eastern studies to the challenges of modernity,

“Political and economic developments in the globalizing world require a rethinking of the values which orientalists are accustomed to. After all, classical Oriental studies include not only history and texts, but also philology, philosophy, as well as heritage of material and spiritual culture. For this reason, both national and world Oriental studies today should take into account all the pros and cons of modern world development.”

The last session addressed the issue of studying the modern Middle East in the countries of Eurasia. In particular, Vasily Kuznetsov, Deputy Head of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, shared his view on the contradictory nature of the current understanding of classical and modern studies,

“The key feature of modern studies is that they have or should have a more applied character than classical ones. Although during the previous sessions I saw that largely the study of the classical heritage is mainly related to applied tasks.”

Special attention was paid to a topic of selecting and interpreting sources. Certain scholar schools, such as Uzbekistan, have decided to make medievalism the priority. In other countries, this leads to the outflow of young personnel from research to other fields of activity due to uncompetitive salaries. In addition, the panel session saw Oriental scholar from Kazakhstan proposing the creation of an Oriental resource for Middle Eastern studies, where each country could submit data on its own research.