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   Date: 3/10/13 Bookmark and Share

Donna Divine to Give Annual Engel Lecture March 12

"Upheaval in the Middle East: A Guide for the Perplexed"

When a young Tunisian man named Mohamed Bouazizi poured gasoline over himself and struck a match in late 2010, he lit a fire still burning across the Middle East.

Click on image to view enlarged poster.

The outbreak of protests that followed did not simply channel the frustrations of the poor and young, it also infused them with the belief that past successes would propel the ones coming next.

But while boundaries appeared to collapse as demands for dignity and social justice extended their reach and tapped into grievances and hopes that seemed universal, location still mattered. The sites of these struggles for a new political order not only helped define the goals but also, and perhaps, more importantly plot the path for their achievement.

These sites are the subject of this year’s 55th annual Katharine Asher Engel Lecture, “Upheaval in the Middle East: A Guide for the Perplexed,” to be delivered by Donna Robinson Divine, Morningstar Professor of Jewish Studies and professor of government, on Tuesday, March 12, at 5 p.m. in Seelye 201. A reception will follow in Seelye 207.

The Engel Lecture is granted annually to a Smith faculty member who has made a significant contribution in his or her field. The lecture was established in 1958 by the National Council of Jewish Women in honor of Engel, its onetime president and a 1920 Smith graduate.

Divine joined the Smith faculty in 1971 after receiving her doctorate at Columbia University (bachelor’s degree, Brandeis University, 1963). Divine began to undertake serious work on the Middle East and on Israel simultaneously as an undergraduate at Brandeis, concentrating on the history of Islamic civilizations and on language study. Graduate training at Columbia University broadened and deepened her knowledge of the Middle East through courses on classical Muslim history and on the region’s economics and politics.

Scholarly interests have directed Divine’s attention to both historical developments and contemporary trends, and although trained as a political scientist, she explains, ”I tend to brew up my projects in an interdisciplinary cauldron.”

Divine’s study of politics has led her to explore Muslim and Jewish cultures and the ways in which these cultures shape societies, order relationships between men and women, and structure how people of all classes understand their life options.

Divine believes in the importance of words and that there is always more to see by reviewing what seems familiar, sometimes with new questions in mind. “In the courses I offer on the Middle East, I also try to explain how words can frame the lives of the people who must live with them even before they understand fully what they mean or how they will be turned into actions.”

Since her arrival at Smith in fall 1971, Divine has developed a variety of courses on the Middle East and has helped shape the introduction to the government major, which focuses on and extends the political theory canon.

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