in their words l in our words

Image: Hamed Malekpour. Source: Wikipedia Commons

A conference about representations of the Other in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia

Postgraduate and early career research conference
Australian National University, 23-24 November 2017


The Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (ANU) is proud to convene its third conference for postgraduates and early career researchers. This two day interdisciplinary conference is open to scholars, students, professionals, and the general public with an interest in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

The conference will be two days of in-depth discussion on contemporary issues, themes and theoretical problems focussed on the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. This conference promises to be insightful for the public sector, business, and others engaged in the region. This is a chance to see the latest research showcased at an academic conference. Furthermore, this conference will be an opportunity for networking and developing collaborative relationships.

Conference theme

In glossy Islamist publications and in the blogs of opposition activists, we seem to have unprecedented empirical access to voices from the Middle East and Central Asia. We are bombarded with images from and about the Muslim world. The Syrian conflict alone has produced a stream of videos, testimonies, counter-testimonies and raw propaganda. The revolution has been live streamed, skyped, tweeted and mapped in real-time. This is a function of both technology and of new forms of media and material. Social media, most notably, has become something of a danger and a boon to analysts and policy makers. Its epistemological promise matches its purported role in disrupting and transforming social and political life on the ground. Words, symbols and media proliferate. The remains of destroyed historical artefacts, the filming of that destruction, and the propagation of such film on social media: each are potential data sets for the scholarly endeavour.

Yet it was almost thirty years ago that Timothy Mitchell argued the European enterprise of knowledge about colonial Egypt actually constituted an idea of Egypt as a picture. Western knowledge of the Orient relied on the idea that the other could be drawn, re-presented, re-figured, re-ordered. Echoing Heidegger’s epithet, this was ‘the age of the world exhibition, or rather, the age of the world-as-exhibition’.  Arguably this picturing of the Other has not slowed down: the Muslim is described, explained, illustrated in cartoon and prose, delineated in laws and regulations, and filmed in real-time as he crosses the sea. Yet we picture them differently depending on disciplinary background: as construction, as epiphenomenon, as agent, as function of history. So images, symbols, and all manner of representations are more dominant than ever. The Muslim is an image, an idea, an other.

We suggest that words, symbols, images and other representations therefore warrant a dedicated empirical and theoretical investigation beginning from the best of the inter-disciplinary traditions of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, but welcoming participation from surrounding academic practitioners. We are interested in both the epistemological potential of these symbolic tokens, as well as various theoretical challenges that are raised by them, concerning the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.


in their words l in our words - Program

Keynote address: Taking Words Seriously When We Observe Islam by A/Prof. Richard Nielsen


Technological advances grant unprecedented access to the words of Muslims, both present and past, at previously unimaginable scale.  What should scholars of Islam make of these words?  I offer a vision for how tools from diverse fields in engineering, social sciences, and humanities might combine to draw insight out of large collections of Muslim’s words.  Technical tools for analyzing text as “big data” are the workhorse in my vision, while the sensitivities of the humanities are crucial for reaching an interpretation of these words that their authors could recognize as authentic.  I illustrate this approach by describing two findings in my recent work.  First, I describe research from my book Deadly Clerics that takes the words of jihadists seriously and uses them to reach new insights about the nature and causes of jihadist ideology.  Second, I show how the words used by female Salafi preachers online differ from those of male preachers and explain what these differences mean for the future of Islamic authority.  These results show how statistical analysis can complement and enhance more traditional approaches in Islamic studies.

Professor Nielsen,  an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. has recently published 'Deadly Clerics: Blocked Ambitions and the paths to Jihad'.
Prof. Nielsen studies and teaches Islam, political violence, human rights, economic development, and research design. His first book, Deadly Clerics (Cambridge University Press), explores why some Muslim clerics adopt the ideology of militant Jihad while most do not. With fellowship support from the Carnegie Corporation, he is writing a second book on how the Internet is changing the nature of Islamic authority. Professor Nielsen’s other research is published or forthcoming in The American Journal of Political Science, International Studies Quarterly, Political Analysis, and Sociological Methods and Research. He holds a PhD in Government (2013) and an MA in Statistics (2010) from Harvard University, and a BA in Political Science (2007) from Brigham Young University.


Full program attached in document below.

Registration site is now open.

Fees to attend are:

Full fee (2 day conference plus lunch, morning and afternoon tea):$65

Student / concession card holder ( 2 day conference plus lunch, morning and afternoon tea):$45

Early bird registration (before 18 October) is $55/$35

Please note: There are no refunds available. All payments are final and non-refundable.



Accommodation Recommendations:

There is a wide range of accommodation available in Canberra both on campus and in the city nearby. Conference participants are responsible for organising their own accommodation. For those wishing to stay on campus, we recommend booking early as spaces are limited.


University House ($135 per night) - University House is our recommended option. It is well-located and has good facilities. Please book directly with University House but advise the conference organisers of your booking, as we have had several rooms set aside for conference participants.

Toad Hall ($70 per night) - Toad Hall is a budget on-campus option. However, availability is limited so participants wanting to stay here should contact Toad Hall promptly.

Liversidge Court Apartments

The ANU is in Acton, a five-minute walk from Canberra City (Civic). The suburbs of Braddon and Turner are also nearby.

Dining options

Many dining options exist a short walk from The Australian National University


  • Street Theatre Cafe
  • School of Music Cafe (5th Level)
  • University House

Walking distance from the ANU

  • Tosolini's
  • Iori Japanese Restaurant
  • Cream Café and Bar
  • Bar Rochford

Getting around

Canberra airport is a fifteen-minute taxi drive to the city (approx. $30 fare).
There is an airport bus shuttle service to the city costing only $12 one way.
Canberra Visit Information centre provides helpful advice on the city’s attractions, transport and other practical matters.

Information for visitors to the Australian National University can be found here:
Australian National University Campus Map

All Conference sessions will be held in the CAIS building.

Other information

A comprehensive list of other accommodation and tourist options in Canberra are available in the following links:

Visit Canberra
Canberra Tourism

Additional information will be added as it becomes available.

Updated:  20 October 2017/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications