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Visiting scholar from China discusses research on Iraqi Kurdistan

Ruiheng Li

Ruiheng Li

Jan 28 2020

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Ruiheng Li, a Ph.D. student at Peking University in Beijing, China joined the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies this year as a visiting student researcher. During his time at Stanford, Li is conducting research at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives, where he is studying the Ba’ath Party Records, a comprehensive archive documenting how Iraq was governed during Saddam Hussein’s rule. Using the records, Li hopes to gain a better understanding of the history of nationalism in Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq.

How did you become interested in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies?

As an undergraduate, I studied the Arabic language at Beijing Foreign Studies University, which is famous for teaching foreign languages in China. So, my interests and curiosity about Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies were established because of my major. In the very beginning, I never thought about studying a foreign language, outside of English. However, when I saw this major, it sparked my interest because I used to read many books about the Arabs’ role in the history of human civilization. After a year studying Arabic, I knew I wanted to continue my studies about the region.

Have you conducted research in the region?

As an undergraduate, I applied to travel to Syria for one year, but due to the terrible situation there, I didn’t make the trip. During my master’s studies, I went to Morocco for one year, which is why I focused on the Islamic discourse in Morocco’s nation state building in my master’s thesis. After that experience, I continued to study nation state building in the Middle East, but I transferred my focus from Morocco to Iraq. As a Ph.D. student, I have traveled to many Middle Eastern countries for field research but for a short period of time, including Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Qatar, Oman, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

Why did you decide to come to Stanford, and what is your research focus?

The reason I am at Stanford is to read the Ba’athist archives at the Hoover Institution. I am working on Iraqi Kurdistan, and I’m really curious about the nationalist discourse inside Iraqi Kurdistan. I believe the already established literature has a left-wing bias, because many left-wing scholars are sympathetic to the Kurds and their bitter experience under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, and also because of the political agenda against Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athist party.

Read the full interview on our Global Perspectives Blog