Thea Abu El-Haj headshot

Thea Abu El-Haj

Professor (On sabbatical AY 2023-24)




7th fl, Milstein Center
Tuesdays, 2:30-4pm and Wednesdays, 2:30-3:30pm.


Thea Renda Abu El-Haj, Professor in Education, is an anthropologist of education. Prior to joining Barnard College, she was an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. There, she co-founded and co-directed the GSE’s Urban Teaching Fellows Program, and directed the Ph.D. program in Theory, Organization, and Policy.

Abu El-Haj’s research explores questions about belonging, rights, citizenship, and education raised by globalization, transnational migration, and conflict. Her two recent projects engage these issues in the United States and Lebanon. In a recent publication, Fifi the punishing cat and other civic lessons from a Lebanese public kindergarten, in the Journal of Education in , she and her colleagues write about their longitudinal collaborative ethnographic study of public kindergartens in Beirut, Lebanon, that focuses on questions of implicit civic education in conflict affected contexts. With the support of a Spencer Foundation grant, she is principal investigator of a US national interview study exploring the civic identities and civic practices of youth from Muslim immigrant communities. Most recently, she and her co-authors Beth Rubin and Michelle Bellino published an invited chapter, “Civic reasoning and discourse amid structural inequality, migration and conflict” for a new report from the National Academy entitled, Educating for Civic Reasoning and Discourse. Abu El-Haj is past-President of the Council on Anthropology and Education of the American Anthropological Association.

Her second book, an ethnographic account of young Palestinian Americans grappling with questions of belonging and citizenship in the wake of September 11, 2001, won the 2016 American Educational Studies Association Critics Choice Award (Unsettled Belonging: Educating Palestinian American Youth after 9/11, University of Chicago Press, 2015). Other publications about this research have appeared in Anthropology and Education Quarterly; Harvard Educational Review; Educational Policy; and Theory into Practice. Her first book, Elusive Justice: Wrestling with Difference and Educational Equity in Everyday Practice (Routledge, 2006), offers a critical account of the range of justice claims at play inside real schools, exploring several different, important dimensions of educational equity that are often ignored in contemporary educational policy debates.

  • PhD, University of Pennsylvania
  • MA, Bryn Mawr College
  • BA, Swarthmore College

  • Anthropology of Education
  • Urban Education
  • Migration and Education
  • Youth Citizenship
  • Muslim American and Arab American Youth

  • EDUC BC 1510 Educational Foundations
  • EDUC BC 3032 Contemporary Issues in Education
  • EDUC BC 3040 Migration, Globalization, and Education
  • EDUC BC 3044 Education and Social Change in Comparative Global Contexts
  • EDUC BC 3063 Elementary Student Teaching in Urban Schools
  • EDUC BC 3064 Critical Inquiry in Urban Teaching

  • American Educational Studies Association Book Critics Award for Unsettled Belonging: Educating Palestinian American Youth after 9/11
  • Fellowship, Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers University. Schooling Palestinian American youth during the “War on Terror”: Gender, sexuality, and the U.S. neo-colonial imaginary
  • Jere E. Brophy Outstanding Article Award for Becoming citizens in an era of globalization and transnational migration: Re-imagining citizenship as critical practice. In Theory into Practice
  • Fellowship, Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers University. Gender, citizenship and community activism: Lessons from an Arab American community arts organization

  • American Anthropological Association
  • American Educational Research Association
  • Urban Teacher Education Consortium

Presentations / Recent Lectures

Education that “breaks your heart”: Learning and teaching in the Lebanese Conflict Zone. 3rd Conference on Anthropology and Education. Teachers College. (October 27, 2018)

Who will save the children: Feminist perspectives on the contradictions of education in states of in/security and crisis. Distinguished Lecture, Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (April, 2017)

Belonging in transnational times: Mobilizing transnational citizenship and rights in an age of securitization. Czech Association of Social Anthropologists (September 30, 2016)

From national subjects to transnational citizens: Educating im/migrant youth for the 21st Century. University of Buffalo, Graduate School of Education (April 1, 2015)

“Educating for justice: Four principles for building inclusive schools.” Arab Resource Collective Regional Conference, “Inclusive education and diversity in the early years.” Beirut, Lebanon. (2009)

“Practicing for educational justice: Four principles for building inclusive schools.” Minnesota, Department of Education, 2009 Statewide conference on integration. “Knowledge, understanding and appreciation: Empowering Minnesota teachers for successful integration.” Minneapolis, MN. (2009)

Is transnationalism good for democracy: Palestinian American youth on rights, citizenship, and justice. Barnard College Forum on Migration (November 7, 2018)

“This is not my America” Or is it? Palestinian American youth confronting everyday nationalism from 9/11 to Trump. University of California, Los Angeles (January 25, 2018)

“Are you or are you not an American”: Palestinian American youth and the everyday politics of nationalism in US schools. CUNY Graduate Center, New York, NY (April 13, 2016)

Unsettled Belonging: Educating Palestinian American Youth after 9/11. Urban Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA (February 9, 2016)

Unsettled Belonging: Educating Palestinian American Youth after 9/11. American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon (October 28, 2015)

“Having an identity without a place in the world”: Palestinian American youths’ transnational citizenship practices. Princeton University Asian American Students Association (November 20, 2014)


Abu El-Haj, T.R. (2015). Unsettled belonging: Educating Palestinian American youth after 9/11. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2006). Elusive justice: Wrestling with difference and educational equity in everyday practice.  New York: Routledge.

Dyrness, A. & Abu El-Haj, T.R. (June 2020). Reflections from the field: The democratic citizenship formation of transnational youth. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 51 (2), 165-177. DOI: 10.1111/aeq.12294

Abu El-Haj, T. R. (March, 2020). Everything in the forest is the forest: Council on Anthropology and Education Past President’s Address. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 51(1), 5-14. DOI: 10.1111/aeq.12326

Ghaffar-Kucher, A. & Abu El-Haj, T. R. (Fall, 2018). Exit East: The fight against US anti-Muslim racism. (Invited Essay) The Assembly: A journal of public scholarship in education. Issue 1. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado.

Abu El-Haj, T. R., Kaloustian, G., Bonet, S, & Chatila, S. (August, 2018). Fifi the punishing cat and other civic lessons from a Lebanese public kindergarten. Journal of Education in Emergencies 4 (1), 13-44. DOI:

Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2017). Afterward. (Invited Essay) Anthropology and Education Quarterly 48 (4), 427-430.

Bonet, S. & Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2020). Reading over our shoulders: Writing about Arab youth, families, and communities in the post 9/11 U.S. In T. McCarty and A. Arshad (Editors), Critical youth research in education: Methodologies and praxis. New York: Routledge

Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2019). Creating safety while embracing discomfort: An anti-oppressive mandate for schooling in a diverse democracy. In M. Levinson and J. Fay Democratic Discord in Schools: Cases and Commentaries in Educational Ethics. Harvard Education Press

Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2019). Considering rights and self-determination with injustice and unequal power in mind.  In A.J. Hahn Tapper and M. Sucharov (Eds.), Social Justice and Israel/Palestine: Foundational and Contemporary Debates. University of Toronto Press

Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2015). Geographies of citizenship: Muslim youth in post 9/11 U.S. In T. Skelton (Ed.), Conflict, Violence, and Peace. Volume 11 of Geographies of Children and Youth, Springer, Singapore. DOI: 10.1007/978-981-4585-98-9_11-1

Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2015). Belonging in troubling times: Considerations from the vantage point of Arab American immigrant youth. In J. Wyn and H. Cahill (Eds.), Handbook of Children and Youth Studies, 433-445. Springer, Singapore.