Middle East Studies Association of North America

Middle East Studies Association of North America
Abbreviation MESA
Formation 1966
Type learned society
Nathan Brown
Website mesana.org

Middle East Studies Association (often referred to as MESA) is a learned society, and according to its website, "a non-political association that fosters the study of the Middle East, promotes high standards of scholarship and teaching, and encourages public understanding of the region and its peoples through programs, publications and services that enhance education, further intellectual exchange, recognize professional distinction, and defend academic freedom."[1]


MESA was founded in 1966 with 50 original members. Its current membership exceeds 2,900 and it "serves as an umbrella organization for more than sixty institutional members and thirty-nine affiliated organizations". It is a constituent society of the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Council of Area Studies Associations, and a member of the National Humanities Alliance.

Regions of interest to MESA members include Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Israel, Pakistan, and the countries of the Arab world from the seventh century to modern times. Spain, Southeastern Europe, the Soviet Union and other regions also are included for the periods in which their territories were part of the Middle Eastern empires or were under the influence of Middle Eastern civilization. Historians comprise the largest group of disciplinary specialists in MESA followed by political science/international relations, anthropology, and language and literature. The interdisciplinary gender and sexuality studies group is quite strong.


The current president is Nathan Brown, George Washington University.


The International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES) is a quarterly journal published by Cambridge University Press under the auspices of MESA. The editor is Akram Khater of North Carolina State University.

The Review of Middle East Studies (RoMES) is MESA’s journal of review. MESA policy has established the focus of RoMES as the state of the craft in all fields of Middle East studies. The Editor is Richard C. Martin and the journal is based at Virginia Tech.

MESA has a very active Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) that has two wings: CAFMENA (Middle East and North Africa, established in 1990) and CAFNA (North America, established in 2005). Through CAF, MESA monitors infringements on academic freedom on the Middle East and North Africa worldwide.[2]

Each year CAF nominates candidates for MESA’s Academic Freedom Award. The winners are confirmed by the Board of Directors.

Israeli-American historian Martin Kramer in his 2001 book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America accused Middle Eastern studies programs of ignoring the mounting threat of Islamic terrorism. In a Wall Street Journal article published in 2001, Kramer claimed that Middle Eastern studies courses, as they stood, were "part of the problem, not its remedy". In a Foreign Affairs review of the book, F. Gregory Gause said his analysis was, in part, "serious and substantive" but "far too often his valid points are overshadowed by academic score-settling and major inconsistencies."[2]

In 2002, American writer Daniel Pipes established an organization called Campus Watch to combat what he perceived to be serious problems within the discipline, including "analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students". He encouraged students to advise the organization of problems at their campuses. In turn critics within the discipline such as John Esposito accused him of "McCarthyism".

In 2010, foreign policy analyst Mitchell Bard claimed in his 2010 book The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East that elements of the Arab lobby, particularly Saudi Arabia and pro-Palestinian advocates, were hijacking the academic field of Middle Eastern studies within several prominent American universities including Georgetown University, Harvard University, and Columbia University.[3] This has involved Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States funding centers and chairs at universities to promote a pro-Arabist agenda.[4] Bard has also accused several prominent Middle Eastern studies academics including John Esposito and Rashid Khalidi of abusing positions by advancing a pro-Palestinian political agenda.[5]

In addition, Bard has criticized the Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) for adopting a pro-Palestinian standpoint. Bard has also alleged that MESA marginalizes non-Israel-related topics including the Kurdish–Turkish conflict and the persecution of religious minorities like Christians and Jews and ethnic minorities that are non-Arabs such as Kurds.[6] Finally, Bard has contended that since the September 11 attacks, the Arab lobby working through Middle Eastern Studies university departments have sought to influence pre-university education by tailoring education programs and resources to reflect a pro-Arabist agenda.[7]


Albert Hourani Book Award

Since 1991 MESA has awarded the Albert Hourani Book Award to recognize "the very best in Middle East studies scholarship". The prize is named after Albert Hourani, "to recognize his long and distinguished career as teacher and mentor".The MESA Dissertation Awards were established in 1982 to recognize exceptional achievement in research and writing for/of dissertations in Middle East studies. In 1984 the award was named for Malcolm H. Kerr to honor his significant contributions to Middle East studies. Awards are given in two categories: Social Sciences and Humanities.

MESA Mentoring Award

Since 1996 the MESA Mentoring Award has recognized exceptional contributions retired faculty have made to the education and training of others.

Jere L. Bacharach Service Award

Since 1997 Jere L. Bacharach Service Award has recognized the contributions of individuals through their outstanding service to MESA or the profession. Service is defined broadly to include work in diverse areas, including but not limited to outreach, librarianship, and film.

List of Recipients
Year Recipient Institution
1997 Ellen-Fairbanks D. Bodman

I. William Zartman

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Johns Hopkins University

1998 Richard L. Chambers University of Chicago
1999 George N. Atiyeh Library of Congress
2000 Louisa Moffitt Marist School
2001 Elizabeth W. Fernea University of Texas at Austin
2002 Jeanne Jeffers Mrad Center for Maghrib Studies in Tunisia
2004 Jere L. Bacharach University of Washington
2005 Ernest N. McCarus University of Michigan
2006 Howard A. Reed University of Connecticut
2008 Fred McGraw Donner University of Chicago
2009 Mary Ellen Lane Council of American Overseas Research Centers
2010 McGuire Gibson University of Chicago
2011 Bruce Craig

Michael C. Hudson

University of Chicago

National University of Singapore

2012 Erika H. Gilson Princeton University
2014 Günter Meyer University of Mainz
2015 Virginia H. Aksan McMaster University

Former presidents

The following persons have been presidents of the association:


  1. "Middle East Studies Association". Retrieved 2014-12-02.
  2. "Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF)". arizona.edu. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
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