Research projects, centres, networks and publications in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES).
Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) at the University of Edinburgh is recognised internationally as a leading institution for research on the Middle East and the wider Islamic world.
In the latest Research Excellence Framework - REF 2021 - our research was submitted in the categories of:
- Politics and International Studies (Panel C - Social Sciences; Unit of Assessment 19)
- Sociology (Panel C - Social Sciences; Unit of Assessment 21)
- History (Panel D - Arts and Humanities; Unit of Assessment 28)
- Modern Languages and Linguistics (Panel D - Arts and Humanities; Unit of Assessment 26)
- Theology and Religious Studies (Panel D - Arts and Humanities; Unit of Assessment 31)
The results reaffirm Edinburgh’s position as one of the UK’s leading research universities - fourth in the UK based on the quality and breadth of its research according to Times Higher Education's REF power ratings.
Selected research centres and networks
Research centres and networks range from formal collaborations to informal groups of researchers working together on a theme or challenge.
A number are based in - or are affiliated with - IMES; others are based elsewhere in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), the University of Edinburgh, or the wider academic community, but involve our staff and students.
The groups provide opportunities for researchers at all career stages to work together with partners and stakeholders in organising events, workshopping publications, engaging audiences outside the academy, and exploring ideas for future projects and funding bids.
Here are just a few of our current groups, and significant networks that are no longer live but have left a legacy of networking and collaboration...
Part of a select network of six Alwaleed Centres at leading universities in the UK, USA and the Middle East, the Centre aims to promote a better understanding of Islam and Islamic culture through ground-breaking research and innovative outreach projects.
Established in 2006 and active until 2016, CASAW was one of five inter-institutional Centres of Excellence in Language-Based Area Studies (LBAS) supported by the joint Research Councils. Bringing together the universities of Edinburgh, Durham and Manchester, it played a key role in the UK government’s initiative to build crucial expertise on the Arab World based on a knowledge of the Arabic language coupled with advanced research methods skills in the social and political sciences, arts and humanities. In its second phase, activities were funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
Spanning a range of disciplines in European, Islamic, American and Asian studies, including medieval literatures and cultures, the Centre brings together around 70 researchers across the University of Edinburgh.
Selected research projects
The Abbasids were the second longest ruling dynasty in Islamic history (750-1258). The first centuries of their rise to power are of key importance for the history of Islam, as the earliest surviving literary texts written by Muslims were composed at this time and in their capital, Baghdad. These texts have been the preferred sources for scholars working on the Abbasid period, meaning that our current view of Abbasid state structures is a view from the top.
The five-year Caliphal Finances project (2021 to 2026) will refocus scholarship on the totality of Abbasid administration. In doing so, it will provide for the first time a view ‘from below’ on Abbasid fiscal history through a study of papyrus documents in Greek, Coptic and Arabic written in Egypt. In a field largely dominated by religious history, the project will renew our understanding of the dynamics of change in pre-modern state structures, with a focus on the complexity of local agency.
Funded by a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC): September 2021 to August 2026
LLC team: Dr Marie Legendre (Principal Investigator)
Iran has been the focus of many studies on the subjugation and marginality of women, but little has been studied about the theocracy’s impact on male identities. In her research into constructions of masculinity in Iranian cinema, Professor Nacim Pak-Shiraz examines a number of films with men as the focus. In published papers and curated film seasons, Pak-Shiraz demonstrates how recent Iranian films have skilfully used the cinematic language to narrate men’s stories of alienation and despair. Challenging stereotypes, she explores how such tales provide a more complex insight into masculine identities in patriarchal society than has been studied to date.
This research is part of Pak-Shiraz’s wider exploration of Iranian cinema, with a particular focus on the role it plays in exploring the complexities of Iranian society and Islam. One particularly innovative strand of her research is on female filmmakers’ representations of men. Other themes include Iranian film directors’ treatment of religious and historical narratives, and continuities and discontinuities in Iranian cinema over the last six decades. Her work has underpinned over 60 film screenings and events on Iranian film, largely as part of the Edinburgh Iranian Festival - Film Season (EIF-FS) and Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Funded by the AHRC-CASAW Research Network: 2014, and a Small Grant award from the Royal Society of Edinburgh: 2019
LLC team: Professor Nacim Pak-Shiraz (Principal Investigator)
This comparative ethnographic project, hosted by University College London, asks how people of different faiths coexist in cities. What tensions and contestations arise? And how can we think about religious coexistence beyond prevailing frameworks of tolerance or conflict? Such questions take on urgency in a time of increasing religiously-inflected flashpoints across the globe.
MEUS pushes against the limits of regional comparisons to develop a cross-regional, historically sensitive understanding of coexistence. The project looks at three cities where there is a state or dominant religion: Karachi; Nairobi; and Palermo. As part of the Alwaleed Centre's research strand on Muslims in Europe, Dr Giulia Liberatore’s research looks at Palermo, Italy. She is examining what modes of religious co-habitation have emerged in the city and surrounding region, and exploring imaginaries of, and attitudes towards, more recent Muslim migrants.
Funded by an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council: October 2019 to April 2025
LLC Team: Dr Giulia Liberatore (Research Fellow)
Postgraduate research and supervision
A PhD in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) is an opportunity to expand upon your interests and expertise in a community that really values research, and to make a definite and original contribution to the field.
We also offer a one year Masters by Research degree, which is a good stepping stone between undergraduate and doctoral study.
We supervise research in a wide range of specialist and interdisciplinary areas, from diaspora studies, and Islamic history, to the Persian, Arabic and Turkish languages, and the politics of the modern Middle East.
Beyond the books
Beyond the Books is a podcast that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at research in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures and the people who make it happen.
In Series 2 - Episode 5 host Emma Aviet talked to Bahar Fayeghi, a PhD student in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. Together they discussed Bahar's work as an intern with the United Nations and her current research on Afghan women refugees in Iran.