Published: April 5, 2017 By

CU Boulder Mediterranean Studies Group fosters study of Western history as a process involving Islamic, Christian and Jewish societies and cultures

Scholars at the University of Colorado Boulder are using the Mediterranean as a frame of inquiry, research and teaching to broaden our understanding of the past.

The CU Mediterranean Studies Group, formed in 2010, comprises undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and the community.  The group explores pre-modern Mediterranean societies and cultures—including Europe, Africa and West Asia—and their role in the historical development of the West.

“Mediterranean studies is an approach to studying the history and culture of the West, not as a manifestation of western Christian culture but rather as a process involving Islamic, Christian and Jewish societies and cultures,” says Brian Catlos, director of the Mediterranean Studies Group and professor of religious studies.

The group consists of nine board members from seven departments at CU Boulder and has counted on the participation of some 135 faculty and students.


Brian Catlos

Mediterranean studies aims to examine the interaction between ethno-religious and cultural communities and to promote collaborative research in the humanities and social sciences.

“It’s a framework which enhances the experience and the potential of our students, both nationally and through international experience,” Catlos says.  

Dillon Webster, a former program coordinator for the Mediterranean Studies Group, attests to the program’s global community and network building.

“It’s given me a context and methodology to use in a way that most of the graduate work I’d done so far hadn’t,” says Webster, who is in his final year of graduate school at CU. “It also provided a community geared towards my interests. I attribute much of my success to the initiative and the opportunities it’s given me.”

In 2015, Webster received departmental funding to travel to Barcelona, where he accessed archives and broadened his research on the political and cultural contact between Christians and Muslims in the medieval western Mediterranean.

“Without Mediterranean studies and the perspective it espouses, it would be difficult to have that trans-regional component to my work,” says Webster.

The group provides students with networking opportunities with visiting scholars and holds seminars and lectures on special topics in Mediterranean studies.

“It’s really important for any student to get an interdisciplinary reading on this central feature of the world,” says Webster, who will continue his research in Spain this summer with a Fulbright scholarship, before beginning a fully funded history PhD at Brown University.    

Now, in an increasingly globalized society, where different cultures are coming into close contact, there’s a lack of understanding that Christians, Muslims and Jews have thousands of years of interaction to draw from.”

The program attracts students from a variety of disciplines on campus, from history to Portuguese to Jewish studies.

“The main aim is to gather an interdisciplinary group of scholars from different departments here on campus to organize one to two events a month, and to create an international and interdisciplinary discussion group about the Mediterranean and its role in world history and in the development of modernity,” says Jeffrey Baron, program coordinator for the Mediterranean Studies Group.

Baron, a first-year graduate student in religious studies, became affiliated with the program as an undergraduate at the University of California Santa Cruz. Through

Sharon Kinoshita, one of the co-organizers of the Mediterranean Studies Group, Baron was introduced to Catlos.

Baron has been offered an opportunity to further his research this summer in Spain, where he will work on an excavation site off the coast of Valencia on an abandoned medieval fortress.

“As far as current research related to Mediterranean studies, I’m looking at medieval travel narratives of Muslims, Christians and Jews in the Mediterranean and how they perceive different ancient monuments and religious sites,” Baron explains.

While Mediterranean studies seeks to reframe a narrative of the past, it is also relevant today.

“The Mediterranean is viewed peripherally. It’s seen as a clash of civilization between Christian Europe, Muslim Africa and the Middle East—it’s seen as a dividing point,” Baron explains. “The Mediterranean Studies Group is trying to get scholars to bridge that gap.”

“Now, in an increasingly globalized society, where different cultures are coming into close contact, there’s a lack of understanding that Christians, Muslims and Jews have thousands of years of interaction to draw from.”

Webster adds, “The Mediterranean has always been a central feature of the world, and the north and south shores have always been connected. We have a current view that they are completely different worlds, but they’re not.  Taking the methodology of the Mediterranean perspective changes how you orient yourself to that region.”

The group organizes workshops and seminars as well as special lectures with visiting scholars and professors. Graduate students and faculty get support to attend the Mediterranean Seminar’s quarterly workshop, held at partner universities across North America.

The next workshop, on “Mysticism and Devotion” will gather more than 50 scholars at CU Boulder on April 21 and 22. In May, the group is organizing the second “Summer Skills Seminar” in which scholars from CU and across the United States will get a crash course in reading “Ladino” (the hybrid literary language of the exiled Spanish Jews).

For more information about the Mediterranean studies group or about registering for events, email