Thea Abu El-Haj

Professor, Education Program Director/Chair

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.

She currently serves as the President of the Council on Anthropology and Education of the American Anthropological Association. Abu El-Haj’s research explores questions about belonging, rights, citizenship, and education raised by globalization, transnational migration, and conflict. She is currently working on two research projects. She is conducting a collaborative ethnographic study of public kindergartens in Beirut, Lebanon, that focuses on questions of conflict and refugee policy. With the support of a Spencer Foundation grant, she is the principal investigator of a U.S. national interview study exploring the civic identities and civic practices of youth from Muslim immigrant communities.

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.

Academic Focus: 

Anthropology of Education

Urban Education

Migration and Education

Youth Citizenship

Muslim American and Arab American Youth

  • EDUC BC 1510 Educational Foundations
  • EDUC BC3032 Contemporary Issues in Education
  • EDUC BC3040 Migration, Globalization, and Education
  • EDUC BC 3044 Education and Social Change in Comparative Global Contexts
  • EDUC BC3063 Elementary Student Teaching in Urban Schools
Awards & Honors: 
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
Professional Affiliations: 

American Anthropological Association

American Educational Research Association

Urban Teacher Education Consortium


Presentations / Recent Lectures: 

Keynote Adresses

  • 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)

Public Talks 

  • “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.

Journal Articles

  • Abu El-Haj, T.R., Rios-Rojas, A., & Jaffe-Walter, R. (2017). Whose race problem? Patterns of racial denial in US and European educational discourses on Muslim youth. Curriculum Inquiry, 47 (3): 310-335.
  • Abu El-Haj, T.R. & Skilton, E. (2017). Toward an awareness of the colonial present in education: Focusing on interdependence and inequity in the context of global migration. Invited essay for special issue of Curriculum Inquiry, 47 (1): 69-79.
  • Rubin, B. C., Abu El-Haj, T.R., Graham, E., & Clay, K. (2016). Confronting the urban civic opportunity gap: Integrating Youth Participatory Action Research into teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 1-13. DOI: 10.1177/0022487116667195
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2013). “Islands of decency”: Building capacity in a sea of despair. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 44 (1): 15-18.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. & Bonet, S. W. (2011). Education, citizenship, and the politics of belonging: Muslim youth from transnational communities and the “war on terror.” Invited article for Youth cultures, language and literacy, 29-59. Review of Research in Education, vol.34.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2010). “The beauty of America”: Nationalism, education and the “war on terror.” Harvard Educational Review, 80 (2): 242-274.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2009). Becoming citizens in an era of globalization and transnational migration: Re-imagining citizenship as critical practice. Theory into Practice, 48 (4), 274–282. Theme issue: The Policies of Immigrant Education: Multinational Perspectives. Article awarded Jere E. Brophy Outstanding Article Award.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. & Rubin, B. C. (2009). Realizing the equity-minded aspirations of detracking and inclusion: Toward a capacity-oriented framework for teacher education. Curriculum Inquiry, 39 (3): 435-463.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2009). Imagining postnationalism: Arts, citizenship education and Arab American youth. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 40 (1): 1-19.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2007). “I was born here but my home it’s not here”: Educating for democratic citizenship in an era of transnational migration and global conflict. Harvard Educational Review, 77 (3): 285-316.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2006). Race, politics, and Arab American youth: Shifting frameworks for conceptualizing educational equity, Educational Policy, 20 (1): 13-34.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2003). Challenging the inevitability of difference: Young women and discourse about gender equity in the classroom. Curriculum Inquiry, 33 (4): 401- 425.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2003). Practicing for equity from the standpoint of the particular: Exploring the work of one urban teacher network. Teachers College Record, 105 (5): 817-845.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2002). Contesting the politics of culture, rewriting the boundaries of inclusion: Working for social justice with Muslim and Arab communities. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 33 (3): 308-316.

Book Chapters

  • 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.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2008). Arab visibility and invisibility. In M. Pollock (Ed), Everyday anti-racism: Getting real about race in school, 174-179. New York: The New Press. 2008 Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights.
  • Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2005). Global politics, dissent and Palestinian-American identities: Engaging conflict to re-invigorate democratic education. In L. Weis and M. Fine (Eds.), Beyond Silenced Voices: Class, race and gender in United States schools, 119-215. Revised edition. Albany: SUNY press.

211 LeFrak Center

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