Rice’s Makdisi named Berlin Prize Fellow

The American Academy in Berlin has named Ussama Makdisi a Berlin Prize Fellow, an honor which includes a semesterlong fellowship in Berlin. Makdisi, the Arab-American Educational Foundation Professor of Arab Studies in History and professor of history at Rice, will spend spring 2018 studying sectarianism in the modern Middle East.


The highly coveted Berlin Prize is awarded annually to a group of scholars, writers, composers and artists from the United States who represent the highest standards of excellence in their fields, according to the academy. Fellows receive a monthly stipend, partial board and accommodations at the academy’s lakeside Hans Arnhold Center in Berlin-Wannsee. Makdisi is one of 22 new Berlin Prize Fellows.

During their stay, fellows engage audiences through public lectures, performances and readings, which take place at the academy and also throughout Berlin and Germany.

Makdisi has published widely on Ottoman and Arab history as well as on U.S.-Arab relations and U.S. missionary work in the Middle East. His books include “Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of U.S.-Arab Relations, 1820-2001” (2010) and “Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East” (2008).

Makdisi disputes two narratives about tolerance in the modern Middle East: The first idealizes harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims; the second stresses a continuity of sectarian strife between allegedly antagonistic religious communities. Rather than assuming either narrative as wholly accurate, Makdisi will conduct research on both while he is in Berlin. His goal is to provide historical perspective on the contemporary sectarian tragedy — including in war-torn Syria, Lebanon and Iraq — uncovering a complex but now obscured culture of social coexistence in a region rich in religious diversity.

Makdisi has been a member of the Rice faculty since 1997. This is Makdisi’s second research stay in Berlin in recent years. In 2012-13, he was a resident fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin).

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.