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International Workshop “Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc (1950s to 1991)”

Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski hosted the international workshop “Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc (1950s to 1991)”. The event was organized by the Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB) and the Department of Arabic and Semitic Studies, Sofia University. In the course of the workshop, the team of the project bearing the same title and funded by the Max Weber Foundation, discussed with invited guests the interim results of the ongoing research.

The event was opened by the Dean of the Faculty of Classical and Modern Philology, Prof. Dr. Madeleine Danova, who emphasized that she is honoured to have Alma Mater host an international meeting of such importance. She further pointed out her surprise that the subject of the project has been so under-researched in earlier studies. Professor Danova shared memories of her years as a university student when she had many colleagues coming from the Middle East and Africa.


The Dean wished a wonderful time in Sofia to all participants in the project and expressed her hope for a continuous mutually beneficial cooperation where after a successful meeting everyone would leave having gained additional knowledge of the matter and new ideas about how research could be continued and what more could be done in studying such an interesting topic. In conclusion, Professor Danova wished to everybody the best of luck and a fruitful stay at Sofia University.


The participants were also greeted by Prof. Dr. Brigit Schäbler, Director of the Orient-Institut Beirut, who, in turn, stressed that she is honoured for visiting Sofia University. In her address, she informed the audience about the history of OIB, as well as about the main goals and tasks of the project. Professor Schäbler also discussed the interim results of the overall research project.


Prof. Dr. Simeon Evstatiev, Head of the Department of Arabic and Semitic Studies, though in absentia, made an academic address, which was read by Ana Mincheva, a doctoral student of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. In his address, dedicated to Arabic and Islamic Studies at Sofia University and the interactions of Bulgaria with the Middle East and Islam, Professor Evstatiev presented to the audience the history of the department chaired by him, highlighting its increasing international visibility. He made several parallels between the history of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies in Bulgaria and Germany, both prior to and following the German unification in 1990, in the context of the interrelation between textually oriented studies and social sciences.


Within his address, the importance of the workshop’s theoretical framework referring to Arjun Appadurai’s concept of “ideoscape” was highlighted to be related to Dale Eickelman’s notion of “social biography” through which amplified “personal stories” can explore larger phenomena in the social structure. Professor Evstatiev wished success to the participants in the meeting emphasizing that the Department of Arabic and Semitic Studies is open for further cooperation with Orient-Institut Beirut.


The Project coordinator, Dr. Ala al-Hamarneh from Orient-Institut Beirut, expressed his excitement at the fact that he is in Sofia and underlined that it was one of the few cities in the world that he calls home. He professed his gratitude to Professor Danova for hosting the event, as well as to Professor Evstatiev and his Department of Arabic and Semitic Studies for having created an ideal academic setting for the international meeting despite the short notice. In conclusion, Dr. Al-Hamarneh wished success and productive work to all of the participants in the study.