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CMENAS Fall Colloquium. Higher Ed between Nationalism and Globalization

Natalie Koch, Heidelberg University (Germany); Alex Shams, University of Chicago (USA)
Monday, November 14, 2022
12:00-2:00 PM
2022 CMENAS Fall Colloquium: Higher Education & Reformation across the MENA: A Geopolitical Exploration

“Higher Ed between Nationalism and Globalization”

Natalie Koch, Heidelberg University (Germany): Nationalism and the geopolitics of higher education in the Arabian Peninsula

State-sponsored education is one of the most important channels for people to develop a sense of national attachment. Scholars stress the role of primary and secondary school, but they give less attention to how nationalism is produced in institutions of higher education. In part, this is because there has been a surge in efforts to internationalize higher education across the world. Yet at the same time that universities strive to become more international, the same efforts reinforce national ideals of superiority and excellence on the world stage. Often designed to “domesticate” elite education from abroad in the name of promoting the nation, these projects are supported by political leaders who see higher education as a key vector in advancing geopolitical visions. Considering several examples of this dynamic from the Arabian Peninsula, this talk examines the interplay between nationalism and globalization in the geopolitics of contemporary higher education.

Alex Shams, University of Chicago (USA): If Not For the Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Social Change in Iranian Higher Education since 1979

Since Iran’s 1979 Revolution, women’s access to higher education has increased dramatically. In contrast to predictions that the Islamization of Iranian politics would lead to the disappearance of women from the public sphere, today women far outnumber men at universities across the country, and they play an active role in all parts of Iranian society. In this presentation, I explore the complex evolution of gender politics in Iran during and since the revolution, focusing on how the 1979 uprising, the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War that followed, and the decades of "normalization" since have reshaped Iranian society and women’s roles in it. I focus on how the implementation of a system of modernized religious governance under the Islamic Republic reorganized debates around gender relations and women’s access to education, drawing on an ethnographic perspective to stress the importance of lived experience in scholarly research in the contemporary Middle East.

Speaker Bio:
Natalie Koch is a professor of human geography at Heidelberg University. She is a political geographer who works on geopolitics, authoritarianism, and state power in hydrocarbon-rich countries, primarily in the Arabian Peninsula. She is the editor of the new book, Spatializing Authoritarianism (Syracuse University Press 2022), and her second monograph, Arid Empire: The Entangled Fates of Arizona and Arabia (Verso 2023), examines the role of the University of Arizona in U.S. empire-building domestically and overseas – focusing on how the arid lands “expertise” essential to establishing settler control of the desert Southwest was built through ties with the Arabian Peninsula since the 1800s. Extending her research on the politics of U.S. higher education abroad, her next project will focus on the wider history of U.S. science diplomacy in the Gulf region.

Alex Shams is a PhD student of sociocultural anthropology at the University of Chicago. His research explores the politics of sacred space and religious governance in the Middle East. He was based for the last three years in Tehran, from where he conducted fieldwork research in Iran and Iraq. He is an editor-in-chief of Ajam Media Collective (, an online journal dedicated to culture, society, and politics in Iran, Central Asia, and the broader region. He previously worked as a journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine.

Register to the virtual event:

If there is anything we can do to make this event accessible to you, please contact Please be aware that advance notice is necessary as some accommodations may require more time for the university to arrange.
Building: Off Campus Location
Location: Virtual
Event Link:
Event Type: Class / Instruction
Tags: Cmenas Colloquium Series, Higher Education, Middle East Studies, Virtual
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, International Institute, School of Education Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education