Saudi Arabia occupies a special place in the Middle East and beyond. The largest and most powerful country on the Arabian Peninsula, the kingdom is home to Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. It is also home to the world’s largest oil reserves. Islam and oil have made Saudi Arabia one of the most important and influential forces in regional and global culture and politics. Since shortly after its founding in 1932, the kingdom has also been a key partner for American business and policymakers, shaping U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and Central Asia both during and after the Cold War.
Until recently scholars have largely neglected Saudi Arabia. In spite of its importance to regional and global affairs in the 20th century, the kingdom has remained something of an enigma in the field of Middle East studies. Rutgers faculty have begun to demystify the history, the politics, and the social and cultural life of Saudi Arabia.
Rutgers professors have devoted considerable energy to the study of Saudi Arabia. The Department of History faculty have carried out extensive field-work inside Saudi Arabia and have published widely on Islam, oil, and politics of the area. Faculty in the Department of History have also worked extensively on the country’s large Shiite minority community, examining Saudi Shiites’ political history and the patterns of their engagement with the Saudi state. The Department of Journalism and Media Studies within the School of Communication and Information has faculty engaged in a project on media representations of the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy in the region, and in Saudi Arabia’s role in shaping political Islam in the late 20th century. Rutgers faculty offer courses that touch on Saudi Arabia in departments across the university, from the Department of History to the Department of Religion.