Dr. Sean Foley

Professor

Dr. Sean Foley
615-904-8294
Room 262, Peck Hall (PH)
MTSU Box 23, Murfreesboro, TN 37132

Degree Information

  • PHD, Georgetown University (2005)
  • MA, Georgetown University (2000)
  • BA, University of California, Berkeley (1996)

Areas of Expertise

Middle East and Islamic History
Persian Gulf History and Politics 
Arts in the Muslim World 
Smoking in the Muslim World

Malaysia and Southeast Asia

China’s Ties to the Middle East

Syria and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Biography

Dr. Foley specializes in Middle East history and the cultural, political, and religious trends in the wider Islamic World. He has published widely and delivered public presentations to major institutions and conferences around the world. His second book, Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom, was published by Lynne Rienner Press in 2019 and is widely regarded as the definitive text on the Saudi arts community. It is based on a nearly a year of...

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Dr. Foley specializes in Middle East history and the cultural, political, and religious trends in the wider Islamic World. He has published widely and delivered public presentations to major institutions and conferences around the world. His second book, Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom, was published by Lynne Rienner Press in 2019 and is widely regarded as the definitive text on the Saudi arts community. It is based on a nearly a year of in-country research and interviews. An Arabic version of the text with an updated introduction will be published this year by Adab, a Saudi press. His first book, The Arab Gulf States: Beyond Oil and Islam, was published in 2010 by Lynne Rienner Press and has also received strong reviews. He has appeared as an expert on Voice of America Television, Indus Television (Pakistan), and Al-Jazeera television and has provided expertise to The Arab News, Forbes, Sabah, and other magazines and newspapers. In addition, he has contributed opinion pieces to The Atlantic MonthlyThe New Straits Times (Malaysia), The Tennessean, and other publications. For more on his work, see his website: www.seanfoley.org.

Previously, he taught at Georgetown University (USA), where he earned an M.A. in Arab Studies in 2000 and a Ph.D. in History in 2005. He graduated with a B.A. in History with honors and distinction from UC Berkeley (USA) in 1996. He has held Fulbright fellowships with Damascus University (Syria), Istanbul University (Turkey), and the International Islamic University (Malaysia). He has also done extensive research throughout Saudi Arabia and was based at King Saud University in Riyadh from April 2013 until the end of January 2014. From June 2014 until August 2014, he was a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University (Australia).

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Publications

Books:

Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Press,2019)

The Arab Gulf States: Beyond Oil and Islam (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Press, 2010)

 

Select Recent Articles:

“A distant early warning system: The Online Public Sphere and the Artistic Movement in Saudi Arabia,” Review of Middle East Studies 53, no. 2 (2019): 1-20.

“When oil is not enough: Sino-Saudi Relations and Vision 2030,” Asian Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Volume 11, no. 1 (2017): 107-120. 

“Seek Knowledge even if it takes you to China: China, Saudi Arabia, and the Twenty-First Century,” Sociology of Islam 4 (2016): 166-188.  

“Legitimizing Transformation without Calling It Change: Tajdid, Islah, and Saudi Arabia’s Place in the Contemporary World,” Contemporary Review of Middle East 2, no. 2 (2015): 55-70.

“When an American Minister Put His Faith in the Power of Islam: Muslim Medicine, Reason, and Public Health in the Modern World,” Journal of History Studies 6, no. 3 (April 2014): 147-161.

“When Collision Emerges As Unexpected Harmony: Saudi Responses to the Arab Spring,” Contemporary Review of Middle East 1, no. 1 (March 2014): 53-74.  

“When Life Imitates Art: The Arab Spring, the Middle East, and the Modern World,” ed. Philipp O. Amour, Special Issue, Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations 12, no. 3 (Fall 2013): 32-46.   

“Saudi Arabia, the Soviet Union, and Modern Islam,” Islam and Civilisational Renewal 4, no. 1 (January 2013): 45-61.

“Re-Orientalizing the Gulf: The GCC and Southeast Asia,” Middle East Policy 19, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 77-87.  

 

Select Recent Chapters:  

“Awakening Records, Maher Zain, and the Rise of the New Muslim Sound.” In Islam, Revival, and Reform. Essays inspired by John Voll, edited by Natana J. DeLong Bas. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, In Press.

“Chapter 15: Saudi Arabia.” In Government and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa, 9th ed., edited by Sean Yom, 477-508 New York: Routledge 2020.  

“From Madison Avenue to Muscat: Ibadi Responses to the Modern Cigarette Industry.” In Local and Global Ibadi Identities, edited by Yohei Kondo and Angeliki Ziaka, 347-365. Hildesheim, Zürich, New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2019.  

“Smoking.” In The Palgrave Handbook of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. edited by P.R. Kumaraswamy, 165-178. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

“Chapter Two: Change At Its Best: The Arts, the Arab Spring, and the New Middle East.” In The Middle East Reloaded: Revolutionary Changes, Power Dynamics, and Regional Dynamics Since the Arab Spring, edited by Philipp O. Amour, 23-56. Washington, DC: Academica Press, 2018.   

“How Big Tobacco Used Islam and Modernity to Conquer Saudi Arabia.” In U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: From Missionaries to the Islamic State, edited by Geoffrey Gresh and Tugrul Keskin, 28-46. London: Routledge, 2018.

“The Hobgoblins of Little Minds: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sectarianism in the Gulf.” In Iran’s Relations with the Arab States of the Gulf: Common Interests Over Historic Rivalries, edited by Maaike Warnaar, Luciano Zaccara, and Paul Aarts, 80-101. Berlin and London: Gerlach Press, 2016.

 

Select Recent Web Publications:

“Asia’s New Pivot: Saudi Arabia’s Relations With Asia,” Asia Society Policy Institute, September 21, 2020.

“All the Boys Together: Art and Contemporary Society,” London School of Economics and Political Science Middle East Centre Blog, June 12, 2019.

“Storytelling in Today’s Saudi Arabia,” Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, DC, June 4, 2019.

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Presentations

Select Recent Conference Presetnations 

“Making Windows Where There Were Once Walls: Calligraphy and Saudi Art in the Twenty-First Century.” Paper presented to the International Symposium on Arabic Calligraphy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 2021.

“I Love You, Urgently”: Art, the Environment, and Social Change in Saudi Arabia.” Paper presented to the ann...

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Select Recent Conference Presetnations 

“Making Windows Where There Were Once Walls: Calligraphy and Saudi Art in the Twenty-First Century.” Paper presented to the International Symposium on Arabic Calligraphy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 2021.

“I Love You, Urgently”: Art, the Environment, and Social Change in Saudi Arabia.” Paper presented to the annual conference of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), Washington, DC, October 2020.

“Academic Keynote Address: How Art and Laughter Brought Change to Saudi Arabia.” Paper presented to AUK Gulf Studies Symposium: Production and Consumption Systems, Kuwait City, Kuwait, March 2019.

“Arabia’s Ambivalent Auteur:  Meshal al-Jaser’s Cinematic Vision for the New Saudi Arabia.” Paper presented to Film and Visual Media in the Gulf Conference, NYU Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE, October 2018.

“Islam and the rise of smoking in Saudi Arabia.” Paper presented to the Oxford Symposium for Religious Studies, Oxford, United Kingdom, August, 2018.

“To Go With the Grain: The Rise of Saudi Arabia’s Modern Artistic Movement.” Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Japan Association for Middle East Studies, Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan, May 2018.  

“From Madison Avenue to Muscat: Ibadi Responses to the Modern Cigarette Industry.” Paper presented to the 8th Conference on Ibadi Studies, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan, May 2017.

“When oil is not enough: Sino-Saudi Ties and Vision 2030.” Paper presented to The 5th International Forum on Asia and the Middle East, Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai, China, September 2016.

“Women are killing us on Instagram: Gender, Social Space, and Saudi Arabia’s Online Community.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), Denver, CO, November 2015.

“Seek Knowledge even if it takes you to China (via Washington): America, China, Saudi Arabia and the Twenty-First Century.” Paper presented to China in the Middle East, Conference Jointly Run by Peking University and Indiana University China Office, Beijing, China, March 2015.

“‘No Woman, No Drive:’ Telfaz11, the Saudi Arts Movement and National Identity in the Twenty-First Century.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), Washington, DC November 2014.

“The Hobgoblin of Little Minds: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sectarianism in the Gulf.” Paper presented to the 2014 Gulf Research Meeting, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, August 2014.    

 

Select Recent Invited Presentations

“MEI Speaks: Online Discussion 2: Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom.”  Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, July 2020.  

“#Cometogether: Cultural and Social Change in Saudi Arabia.” Paper presented to National Council of US-Arab Relations, Washington, DC, May 2020.

“Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom.” Paper delivered at the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, February 2019.  

“Change from the Bottom Up: Art, Society, and Southern Saudi Arabia.” Paper delivered at the Arab Gulf Studies Institute in Washington, Washington, DC, February 2019.

“Culture and Sino-Saudi Relations: An American Professor's Perspective.” Paper delivered to the School of Arabic Studies, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing, China, December 2016.  

“When dissonance becomes unexpected harmony: How artists are re-imagining Saudi Arabia’s culture and society.” Paper delivered to the Centre for Middle East Studies, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan, May 2016.

“When the Quran was America’s weapon for freedom in the Middle East.” Paper delivered to University Malaysia, Perlis (UniMAP), Arau, Perlis, Malaysia, December 2015.

“The unacknowledged legislators of the kingdom: Arts and Culture in Contemporary Saudi Arabia.” Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University, Malaysia, Gombak (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), December 2015.

“To Forgive but Not Forget: Saudi Arabia and the Middle East in the Age of ISIS.” Paper delivered to the University Forum Lecture Series, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada, April 2015.  

“No Woman, No Drive: How a new generation of artists is transforming Saudi Arabia.” Paper presented to the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia, August 2014.

“Gender and Social Change in Saudi Arabia: Rights versus the Optimal Social Choice.” Paper presented to the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia, August 2014.

“The Gulf and the Arab Spring: An American’s Perspective.” Paper presented to the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Institute of Diplomatic Studies, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 2013.   

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Awards

Fulbright Fellowship, Malaysia, September 2010-December 2011: The fellowship funded travel in Asia and research on the influence of Islamic Modernism on Southeast Asia between 1875 and the present.

Smith Richardson Foundation Junior Faculty Research Grant, 2007-2010: Grant funded the research and writing for the monograph The Arab Gulf States: Beyond Oil and Islam.

In the Media

Dr. Foley has given commentary on current events and the history of the Middle East and the Islamic World to broadcasters and podcasts around the world: ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio, Canberra, Australia); ABC (Australian Broadcasting Television, Sydney, Australia); Al-Jazeera English Television; Cover to Cover (KPFA 94.1 FM, Berkeley, CA); Dawah Films (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); Forbes; Fox 17 News at 9:00 PM (Fox 17, WZTV, Nashville, TN); Inside Politics (News Channel 5+, WTV...

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Dr. Foley has given commentary on current events and the history of the Middle East and the Islamic World to broadcasters and podcasts around the world: ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio, Canberra, Australia); ABC (Australian Broadcasting Television, Sydney, Australia); Al-Jazeera English Television; Cover to Cover (KPFA 94.1 FM, Berkeley, CA); Dawah Films (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); Forbes; Fox 17 News at 9:00 PM (Fox 17, WZTV, Nashville, TN); Inside Politics (News Channel 5+, WTVF, Nashville, TN); MTSU on the Record (WMOT 89.5 FM, Murfreesboro, TN); Middle Tennessee Public Radio News (WMOT FM, 89.5 FM Murfreesboro, TN); Morning Line with Nick Beres (News Channel 5+, WTVF, Nashville, TN), Open Line (News Channel 5+, WTVF, Nashville, TN); Nightly News (Channel 4, WSMV TV, Nashville, TN); Open Line with Ben Hall (News Channel 5+, WTVF, Nashville, TN); The Road To Now With Ben Sawyer and Bob Crawford (Podcast); Sabah (Turkey); and the Voice of America Azerbaijani Service (Washington, DC). For examples of his interviews, go to www.seanfoley.org.  

Dr. Foley has also spoken in Arabic to broadcasters in the Middle East, including an extended live interview in August 2013 on Line Sports Television, Saudi Arabia’s top sports television channel.

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Courses

Select Undergraduate Courses Taught

History 1020, World History 

History 2020, American History from 1865 to the Present 

History 3010, The Historian’s Craft

History 3125, World War I

History 4440, Middle East History 

History 4445, The Arab-Israeli Conflict 

Select Graduate Courses Taught

History 5440, Middle East History

History 6304, The Global History of World War I