In a captivating dialogue that unveiled the academic journey and profound insights of one of our esteemed colleagues, CMENAS had the privilege of interviewing Professor Mark Tessler, the Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science. With a career spanning decades and a wealth of experience in comparative politics and Middle Eastern studies, Professor Tessler shared candid reflections on his scholarly pursuits, research endeavors, and the transformative activities and events that have defined his illustrious career.

The interview commenced with an in-depth overview of Professor Tessler's academic background. "Let’s start with the beginning, could you provide me with an overview of your academic background and how you became interested in comparative politics and Middle Eastern studies," asked the interviewer. Professor Tessler meticulously outlined his educational journey, from his undergraduate days at Case Western Reserve University to his doctoral studies at Northwestern University, where he specialized in political science and African studies. This trajectory also included a year of study in Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a year taking classes on Islamic and North African sociology, in French, at the University of Tunis.  His extensive research experience includes fieldwork in Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, and Qatar.

Delving into his teaching and consulting experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa, Professor Tessler described the courses on research methods and development studies that he taught in Zaire, Rwanda, and Liberia.  He also shared a number of anecdotes, such as the time his car overheated in a very remote area of Rwanda, and this just happened to be the home of one of his best students from the university.  This and many other experiences left an indelible mark on his memory. "Be adventurous, take advantage of opportunities that come along, don't overthink them. Ninety-nine times out of 100, it'll be a wonderful and enriching experience," he emphasized, reflecting on the formative nature of his own early adventures. This experience underscored the resilience and resourcefulness of individuals in challenging circumstances, reaffirming his commitment to education as a catalyst for positive change.

Transitioning to Professor Tessler's scholarly publications, the interview explored seminal works, such as his 1,000-page A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Indiana, 2009), which has been widely-used and has won national awards. Among his other important books are Religious Minorities in Non-Secular Middle Eastern and North African States (Springer, 2019), Islam and Politics in the Middle East: Explaining the Views of Ordinary Citizens (Indiana, 2015), and Public Opinion in the Middle East: Survey Research and the Political Orientations of Ordinary Citizens (Indiana University Press, 2011). 

A pivotal moment in the interview was the discussion of Professor Tessler's role in co-founding the Arab Barometer Survey Project. With over 76 national surveys and roughly 135,000 personal interviews conducted across eight waves in 15 countries, the project has become a cornerstone of empirical research on public opinion in the Arab world. Professor Tessler underscored the project's impact, highlighting its recognition as the best new dataset in comparative politics by the American Political Science Association. He also detailed the challenges encountered during the project, including instances of data forgery and the complexities of conducting surveys in diverse socio-political contexts.

Particularly noteworthy, among others, was Professor Tessler's mention of collaboration with BBC Arabic, wherein the Arab Barometer data was utilized for insightful analysis. The resulting BBC articles garnered significant attention, with the articles in Arabic initially amassing 50,000 hits and the English version reaching an impressive one million hits. This collaboration exemplified the real-world impact of academic research and the importance of engaging with media outlets to disseminate knowledge to broader audiences.

As the interview drew to a close, Professor Tessler reflected on his contributions beyond academia, including his most recent book Social Science Research in the Arab World and Beyond: A Guide for Students, Instructors, and Researchers (Springer International Publishing, 2022 and Qatar University Press, 2023). Prepared for use at Arab (and other) universities, the book is available in both English and Arabic and is open access, which means it can be downloaded without charge from the publishers’ websites. To date, the English version book has been downloaded over 12,000 times and the newer, Arabic version over 6,000 times.  Preparation of the volume was supported by a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

In discussing this book’s potential impact, Professor Tessler emphasized the importance of inclusivity and accessibility in academic research, advocating for the dissemination of knowledge across linguistic and cultural barriers. To encapsulate his ethos, Professor Tessler imparted a final thought, “Science knows no borders. It's not about different statistics; it's about universal principles.”

In commemorating Professor Mark Tessler's scholarly odyssey, CMENAS celebrates not only a distinguished career but also a steadfast commitment to advancing understanding and fostering dialogue across borders. As we continue to navigate the intricacies of the Middle East and North Africa, may Professor Tessler's insights inspire us to embrace curiosity, compassion, and intellectual rigor in our scholarly pursuits.