ACRPS General Director Azmi Bishara delivered the inaugural lecture of the 2017/2018 academic year at the Doha Institute. Bishara's lecture, titled "The Doha Institute: the Challenge Facing the Social Sciences and Humanities in an Arab Context", was an opportunity to provide a bird's eye view of the historical development of the social sciences and humanities, as disciplines committed to the study of individuals and societies. Bishara also explained the rationale behind the interdisciplinary ethos of the Doha Institute, adding that "When we founded the Doha Institute, we made the conscious decision to bring together the Social Sciences and the Humanities; in the conviction that the social sciences are humanities and the humanities are social sciences."
Bishara described the task ahead for the Doha Institute as a "a historic opportunity to build a different project to those prevailing in the social sciences, humanities, and public administration, by providing opportunities for full-time devotion to reflection and research in an atmosphere of academic freedom, encouragement of critical thought, and fruitful interaction between researchers, professors, and students."
Bishara also emphasized the centrality of language to the Doha Institute's message, adding that any awakening or renaissance would have to be expressed within the Arabic language, even while insisting that Arab social scientists and humanities scholars should be competent in other languages.
Bishara tied this in to contemporary political issues in the Arab world, making a connection between totalitarian forms of government, economic underdevelopment and the inability or unwillingness to support serious research in the theoretical sciences in general. In such societies, added the speaker, the fragility of civil society means that no considerable support for social sciences scholarship is forthcoming from outside of the public sector.
Continuing in the same vein, Bishara decried the trend to take the sciences away from their ethical compass, adding that "From another angle, the separation of ethical government and thinking about ends from science led to other dilemmas. The scandalous use of science in general, solely as a tool of control and the exploitation of skills acquired in the social sciences and humanities to serve unjust ends and sometimes to directly contradict itself is spreading ignorance rather than knowledge".
Situating the Doha Institute within its context, Bishara placed the burden on Arab scholars to advance their own research agenda and to abandon their outmoded fixation with the West. Instead, Arab academia needs to focus on studying the seismic social transformations that today are sweeping up the Arab region.
To read the full text of the lecture in English translation, please click here.