The broad cultural changes Saudi Arabia has witnessed in recent years have been reflected in the development of social sciences teaching methods in universities and the expansion of research topics that were previously not possible, academics who study social science issues say.
“Today, Saudi universities encourage their students to study different social topics, in addition to researching issues of women’s empowerment, human rights and other modern pivotal topics, while using qualitative research methods,” said Muna Al-Ghuraibi, a scholar in political sociology and assistant professor at King Saud University’s Department of Social Studies, in a phone call.
In response to pressure from conservative religious and political forces, the oil-rich kingdom had stopped teaching some philosophical and anthropological subjects for about 40 years, pushing the majority of social science researchers there to conduct research through surveys and to focus on family and crime issues. Political sociology issues were completely absent, according to a report issued by the Arab Council for the Social Sciences in 2018.
An earlier report revealed that about 19 percent of 1,037 research papers produced by Saudi social scientists between 1970 and 2013 focused on “crime, delinquency, and social discipline.” Only two research papers dealt with social conflict, and only one paper examined the issue of foreigners’ employment. (See a related article, “Arab Social Sciences: Scarce, But Sorely Needed.”)
“The past social closure period affected the course of education in general, and social sciences in particular,” said Al-Ghuraibi. “It had a negative role in limiting the study of some social issues and restricted some studies in general, under the pretext that they might lead to atheism.”