The Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies: Activities
The Middle Centre was established in 1988 to provide a focus and promote
interdepartmental co-operation among the Middle East scholars of the
University. It does this, among other ways, by having guest lectures as well as
inviting guest professors or visiting researchers.
For local users, the Centre also has a
specialist library on Middle Eastern
topics, containing among other items a large collection of publications and
sources for the history and society of the Sudan.
The period has been one of transition for the Centre. In 2000, we were moved
from our location of the last ten years at Parkv. 22, where we disposed of most
of a house, to a single floor in Hans Tanks gt. 11. Then, in 2002, we again
moved, this time to more modern and central localities at Nygårdsgt. 5,
in the University's 'Stein Rokkan Building', where we share a floor with i.a.
the Centre for Development Studies and the Centre for Studies of Environment
This physical move heralds organizational changes, which are not yet clarified.
However, the university is aiming at greater integration between the various
entities involved in non-European and development studies, in one form or
another. It is not yet clarified what impact this will have on the Middle East
centre, but we remain confident that our centre will remain as an independent
focus for research on the Islamic world, but perhaps with changed tasks and
objectivies in a reorganized structure under the university.
There has also been some personell changes. Dr. Knut S. Vikør, who has
been the director of the centre since 1988, took a leave of absence in 2002 in
order to take part in the Middle East history teaching program at the History
department. He has temporarily been replaced (part-time) by Dr. Ståle
Knudsen, while himself retaining some tasks for the Centre during the vacancy,
which will last at least until 2004. In 2003, Ms. Sylvia Liland, the Centre's
secretary since 1994, took early retirement. She was replaced by Ms. Kjersti G.
Berg, MA, for the period 2003-04. Berg will function both as secretary and
co-ordinator of the Centre in this period. The future organizational and
personell structure of the Centre is to be decided in the course of this period.
The Centre welcomes a number of visiting scholars who come for anything from a
few days to several weeks to consult with colleagues and study the source
collections at Bergen and the Centre. Among those who visited us in 2001-2003
In addition to these external scholars, the Bergen Research Fellows Anne K.
Bang,and Kirsten Alsaker Kjerland, both historians, have had their offices at the Centre.
- Massimo Zaccaria, Padua, February-May 2001
- Scott S. Reese, Northern Arizona, Fulbright research professor
- Samim Akgönkul, Strasbourg, March 2002
- Uoldelul Chelati Dirar, Asmara, September 2002
- Ahmed Abushouk, Kulala Lumpur, May 2003
- John O. Hunwick, Evanston, June-July 2003
- Saadi M. Simawi, July 2003
Culture and Society around the Indian Ocean
A seminar was set up at the Centre around the research focus on the Indian
Ocean, in cooperation with the project described under 'Research focuses'.
These papers were presented in 2001-02:
The department of History also organized a research seminar under the same
program on 'Trade migration and cultural change in the Indian Ocean',
3-4.10.01. There were papers by Randi Håland, Nils
Anfinset, Seán O'Fahey, Anders Bjørkelo,
Anne Bang and Hans Eric Fasmer, Bergen; Matthew Cenzer;
Northwestern University, Jeremy Prestholt, Berkeley, and Ahmed
Abushouk, Kuala Lumpur.
- 27.2.01 Anne Bang, SMI: 'Integration or cosmopolitization? Family history and identity in East Africa and South Arabia, c. 1850-1945'
- 6.3.01 Anders Bjørkelo: 'Cairo and the Indian Ocean trade in the medieval and early periods'
- 13.3.01 Christian Meyer: 'Copper and dried fish between Mesopotamia and Indus: Oman in the bronze age'
- 20.3.01 Hans Eric Fasmer: 'Regular and petty trade: Dhow trade on the Indian ocean in the 20th century'
- 27.3.01 Eivind Seland: 'With gold to where the pepper grows: trading networks on the Indian Ocean during antiquity'
- 3.4.01 Michael Lambek, Toronto: 'Localising Islamic Performance on Mayotte'
- 24.4.01 Sindre Bangstad: 'Islam in Cape Town, South Africa, 1658-1994: An anthropological rendering'
- 8.5.01 Richard H. Pierce: 'An expanding horizon: the land between the Nile and the Red Sea as a transit zone for long-distance commerce in antiquity'
- 26.2.02 Scott Reese, Northern Arizona: 'Herders, merchants and Sufis: The negotiations of trade in 19th century Horn of Africa'
- 23.4.02 Else Kleppe: 'Shell middens on Zanzibar'.
- 6.5.02 Scott Reese: 'The adventurs of Abu Harith: Muslim travel writing and navigating the modern in colonial East Africa'The seminar was in 2003 continued at the History department.
Islam in Europe
A seminar was also set up for the other prioritized research focus, on 'Islams
in Europe'. These papers were presented:
- 21.3.01 Richard Johan Natvig: 'Islam in Bergen: experiences and results from a research project'
- 18.4.01 Sindre Bangstad: 'Religious legitimation in a local community in Cape Town'
- 9.5.01 Christine Jacobsen: '"Muslim, that is my identity": On identity
work among young Muslims in Oslo'
30.5.01 Cecilie Hansen: 'Understanding and experiencing the veil: Desexualization or stimulation of the the fantasy'
From 2003, the Centre has started a regular inter-departmental research and master's seminar on varying topics. The seminar of fall 2003 had as a theme: "Gender, Religion and Change in the Middle East: 1800-2000", and was in preparation for the conference of the same theme (below). It included papers by
Meyda Yegenoglu (Ankara), Munzoul A. M. Assal (Bergen), Thomas Walle (Oslo), Sevil Sümer, Bergen, Bjørn Olav Utvik (Oslo) Judith Mabro (Oxford) and Aud Talle (Oslo).
The full program is available separately.
In spring 2004, the topic for the term is "Modernity in the Middle East, history, power and Orientalism".
Gender, Religion and Change
In November 2003, the Centre hosted its first international conference (in co-operation with the Department of History and the Centre for Gender studies). The topic was "Gender, Religion and Change in the Middle East: 1800-2000". The conference gathered about 70 participants from a number of countries. A full description and program are available here:
Publications from the Centre
For some years, the Centre has produced a number of books or journals,
published either alone or in co-operation with an external publisher. From
1996, this has been organized in three distinct book series published from the
Centre, the Bergen Studies on the Middle East and Africa, in the
Centre's name; Nordic Research on the Middle East, from the Nordic
Society (below) and Sudanic Africa Texts and Sources, from that journal
(also below). Technical production is at the Centre, distribution of English-language titels are by Chr. Hurst Publishers in London. One book was published in 2003, in Norwegian, Kjersti G. Berg: Fredsbygging i krigstid: Palestinarane og det norske People-to-People-programmet, 1995-2002 [Building peace at a time of war: The Palestinians and the Norwegian People-to-People program].
The Centre also houses the secretariat for the Nordic Society for
Middle Eastern Studies (NSM), as the Director has been Secretary of the Society
since its foundation in 1989. The Nordic Society is a body of research scholars
attached to academic institutions in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden who
are working in the humanities or social sciences on the Middle East. The
membership currently stands at around 250.
The Society organizes a general conference every three years. The fifth Nordic
conference was held in Lund in October 2001. The sixth conference is planned
for October 2004 in Copenhagen.
The Society publishes a (roughly) bi-monthly Nordisk Midtaustenbulletin (each ca.
10-20 K / 5-10 pp., mixed Scandinavian and English language) distributed by
electronic mail to about 200 readers in the four countries. This contains
information on research in the Nordic countries, conferences and seminars
inside and outside Scandinavia, books published, theses defended, job offers
etc. (a paper excerpt is distributed to the minority of members without
In 2002-03, the Society has in conjunction with the Centre prepared a detailed
survey / catalogue of courses on the Middle East at universities in the Nordic
countries, for publication and for the purpose of student exchange. This work
has been carried out by Ms. Kjersti G. Berg and will be published in
2004 on paper and on the Internet.
The Nordic Society forms an integral part of the European Association of Middle Eastern Studies, currently based in Mainz, Germany.
Nordic Research on the Middle East.
This publication series groups some past and current publications of the Nordic
Society. The first volumes are selections of papers from each of the general
conferences: 1989 in Uppsala; 1992 in Copenhagen and 1995 in Joensuu, and 1998 in Oslo. Papers from the 2001 conference are published in various local or
Included in this series is also a Directory of Middle Eastern Studies in the
Nordic Countries. It is in effect the directory of the members of the
Society, which includes information on the research carried out by 250 scholars
in the four countries as well as contact information. Renewed every three
years, a fifth edition is prepared for publication in 2001.
An international academic journal is also published from the Centre. Sudanic
Africa. A Journal of Historical Sources is a continuation of an earlier,
mimeographed Bulletin of Information of the Fontes Historiae
Africanae series. SAJHS does, however, have a wider aim of being a
general academic journal for the discussion, publication and presentation of
historical sources for the region of Africa that spans from the Atlantic
(Mauritania) to the Indian Ocean (Horn of Africa), that is, the 'Sudanic belt'.
It is published annually with the editorial board of Professors John
O. Hunwick of Northwestern University, Jay Spaulding of Kean College of New
Jersey, Stefan Reichmuth of Bochum, Jean-Louis Triaud of Aix-en-Provence and
Professor O'Fahey and Dr. Vikør of Bergen. Volume 11, 2000 (161 pp) was published in 2001; volume 12, 2002 (181 pp), appeared in 2002. While the
editorial work is truly transatlantic, the journal is printed and administered
from the Centre in Bergen.
Sudanic Africa Texts and Sources
A series of monographs, or 'occasional issues' in conjunction with the journal
appears as Sudanic Africa: Texts and Sources. It further has a sources archive on the World-Wide Web.
Publication & research aids
The Centre has also given advice and helped in the production of other books
and publications in various parts of the world, particularly those using Arabic
script or Arabic written in diacritics. Thus, a set of typestyles (fonts) for
writing Arabic, Persian and Turkish transliteration on the Macintosh computer,
the Jaghbub package has been developed. These fonts, created at the Centre (by
Dr. Vikør), are distributed from the Centre's Internet server in Bergen. They are widely used in the
academic community in Europe and the US.
From 1995, the Centre has run a rapidly expanding information service on the
Web, which currently covers about 500 different documents with a total of more
than 3,000 pages of text and over five megabytes of downloadable files relating
to Arabic and the Middle East. The site is popular, there are about 2,000
visits a week to our pages, and an average of 70 megabytes of text or files are
downloaded from them every day.
The archive is divided into four main areas of text documents.
The Middle East Studies in Bergen region covers a survey of research on
the Middle East in Bergen, which is also published on paper, but here
with staff list updated, and accumulated lists of publications, dissertations
passed and similar. It also contains some seminar plans and papers (in
Norwegian), catalogues of books and journals in the Centre library and other
material relevant for the local environment. There is also further information
of the various books and journals published from the Centre. It also contains,
in Norwegian, information for local students.
The Nordic Society region archives the on-line Nordic bulletin of Middle
Eastern studies (64 issues with 400 pp. in all until mid-2003), material
from the printed Members' Newsletter (such as an evaluation of Arabic teaching
programs for foreigners in the Middle East) and information on future events
organized by the Society, as well as an extensive list of conferences and
seminars on the Middle East or Islam around the world. It also contains the
full text proceedings of the Third and Fourth Nordic Middle Eastern conferences
in Joensuu and Oslo and abstracts from the fourth in Lund.
Adjunct to the Nordic Society region is the Web archive of the European
Association for Middle Eastern studies (EURAMES) with material from the
association as well as some material from the 'Individual and Society' European
research project which ended in 2001. The
project's mailing list is also hosted at Bergen.
The Sudanic Africa region includes the Table of Contents of the volumes
published to date. It also contains a selection of articles from each volume,
in addition to the full sections on bibliographies; book reviews and notes and
The Sudanic Africa Texts and Sources Archive contains material relating
to Sudanic Africa that has not been published on paper or elsewhere. This
includes 'The Nuba Mountains: who spoke what in 1976?', a survey with
documentation prepared by Professor Herman Bell.
The fourth section is related to computer questions, and constitutes the
Arabic Macintosh Information Centre. Although informal and established
from the accumulated knowledge at the Centre, it contains the basic information
material on 'Arabizing' this computer, reviews and surveys of programs in
It also discusses other computer matters relating to Arabic or other
non-European scripts. In addition to this, the archive contains software, including Centre-created fonts for transliterated Arabic (the 'Jaghbub package'), widely used in book production and privately across the world.
Adjunct to this are numerous tools produced at the Centre for the aid of Arabic
or transliteration, thus for alphabetic sorting of texts with such
diacriticals, tools for converting Arabic script files between the Macintosh
and various PC / Windows formats; for converting non-compatible files into a
more modern format etc.
There is also a section on using non-European languages on the Internet in general, with a set of tools that will allow a common email program (Eudora)
exchange email in most languages and scripts of the world. This online
information centre / archive is internationally recognized as the most complete
of its kind, and is referenced as the Arabic resource unit from Apple Co.'s Web
The Centre Web server is accessed at:
These serve on the Board of the Centre in 2002-03:
- Assoc. Professor Anders Bjørkelo, History (Chairman)
- Res. Fellow Ståle Knudsen, Anthropology
- Professor Leif O. Manger, Anthropology
- Assoc. Professor Richard Natvig, History of Religions
- First secretary Ane Landøy, History of Religions / Arts Library
- Assoc. Professor Anh Nga Longva, Anthropology
- Professor Rex Seán O'Fahey, History
- Else Jerdal, Geography
In 2003, Ms. Jerdal withdrew from the board and was replaced by Res. Fellow Sevil Sümer
(In Dr. Knudsen's period as employee of the Centre, Ms. Jerdal / Dr. Sümer has functioned as a full member of the Board.)
The staff has consisted of Dr. Knut S. Vikør, Director (daglig
leiar, on leave 2002-04) and First Secretary, Mrs. Sylvia Liland.
From mid-2002, the position of director has been shared on a part-time basis
between Dr. Vikør and Dr. Knudsen. At Ms. Liland's retirement in 2003,
Ms. Kjersti G. Berg has been temporarily employed (2003-04) as
co-ordinator (førstekonsulent) on a full-time basis.