Dr Maria Holt

I obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science and Middle East & Islamic Studies from the University of Toronto, in 1987; and an MA (with Distinction) in Middle Eastern Politics from the University of Exeter, in 1988. 

Following a career as a political lobbyist, specializing in the Middle East, and a parliamentary researcher, I returned to university in the late 1990s to pursue PhD research. Upon completing my PhD at the University of York in 2004, on the effects of violent conflict on Shi'i women and Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon, I was fortunate enough to get a short-term contract as a Research Fellow on the Democracy & Islam Programme at the University of Westminster. In 2007, I was given a permanent contract as a Lecturer. I was promoted to Senior Lecturer and, in 2013, became a Reader in Politics in the Department of Politics & International Relations.

In the early 2000s, I conducted an oral history project of the end of the British colonial period in southern Yemen, which included interviewing individuals in the UK who worked in Yemen in the period before 1967 and Yemenis who remembered the British occupation. This later became part of a book Without glory in Arabia: the end of British rule in Aden (with Peter Hinchcliffe and John Ducker).

My current research interests fall into four main areas: (1) women and war in the Middle East; (2) the effects of violence on Arab women; (3) the influence of Islam, as faith and a form of activism, on Middle Eastern women's political activities, especially in light of the recent popular uprisings in several Arab countries; and (4) Palestinian women in the refugee camps of Lebanon; this builds on research conducted into Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (my book, published in Jerusalem in 1998, was translated into Arabic and became a key source of information and debate on this topic). As a result of my ethnographic-based work in the Middle East, I have developed a new methodology (as a result of this, I was invited to participate in a workshop in Washington DC organized by the United States Institute of Peace In November 2009 to discuss policy implications of women's roles in conflict; I was also invited to contribute a chapter to a book on the development of methodology in conflict and post-conflict areas). The role of women has been identified by the EU and US as crucial to the development of post-'Arab spring' states. 

In 2006-07, I received funding from the AHRC to conduct an ethnographic research project into Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon, in terms of memory, identity and change (this resulted in a number of peer-reviewed articles, several book chapters and conference papers, and evidence published as part of a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Enquiry; and also a book,  Women and conflict in the Middle East: Palestinian refugees and the response to violence, published by I B Tauris in 2013. In 2007-08, I carried out another project (funded by the United States Institute of Peace) into the effects of Islamic resistance movements on Palestinian women in the West Bank and Shi'a women in Lebanon (this research, which included over 100 interviews with Lebanese and Palestinian women, male political and religious leaders, academics and journalists, also led to a number of publications, conference papers and another book (with Haifaa Jawad), published by Lynne Rienner in 2013. One of the outputs of this research was a one-day conference, in November 2008, at the University of Westminster to discuss the findings of my research project on women and Islamic resistance; the conference included invited speakers from Palestine, Lebanon, the Netherlands and the UK, three panels and nine papers. 

I am continuing to develop these various research strands and am currently working on four projects: (1)  A book commissioned by Lexington Books in the US, on Violence against Arab women in war and peace (which builds on the work of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to combat violence against women); (2) The Palestinian nation in a post-national world; (3) Migration research from a gendered perspective, with a particular focus on Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon; and (4) Islamization, empowerment and violence against women: a case study of Malaysia.

In response to my work, I have received expressions of interest and invitations from the Middle East, Europe, North America, South East Asia and Brazil. I have participated in numerous international conferences and published journal articles and book chapters about my research. 


2000 British Society for Middle Eastern Studies 

2001 British International Studies Association 

2002 Council for British Research in the Levant 

2006 Arts & Humanities Research Council (Project: Memory, identity and change: a case study of Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon) 

2009 United States Institute of Peace (Project: Women and Islamic resistance in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories) 

2010 Cordoba Foundation (Project: Women and Islamic resistance in the Arab world) 

  • Centre for the Study of Democracy