Brenda Shaffer

Brenda Shaffer

Brenda Shaffer is an American and Israeli scholar, and the president-elect of the Foreign Policy Section of the American Political Science Association.[1] She is currently a faculty member at the University of Haifa, in the School of Political Science and Department of Asian Studies and visiting scholar at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy.



Brenda Shaffer was born in the United States.

Shaffer received her Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University and has worked for a number of years as a researcher and policy analyst for the Government of Israel. She reads a number of languages, including Turkish, Azerbaijani, Russian, and Hebrew.

Shaffer was a postdoctoral fellow[2] at the International Security Program [3] of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She was the former Research Director of the Caspian Studies Project at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

  • 2001-2004 Post-doctoral Fellow, “Young Truman Scholar” three-year fellowship in the field of Middle East Studies, Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel).[3]
  • 2000-2001 Post-doctoral Fellow, International Relations & Middle East Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel).
  • 1999-2005 Post-doctoral Fellow, International Security Program, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (USA).
  • 1996-1999 Ph. D. School of History, Tel Aviv University (Israel). Dissertation topic: “The Formation of Azerbaijani Collective Identity: in Light of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet Breakup.”
  • 1986-1989 MA in Political Science (with specialization in Russian Studies)' Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel). (MA thesis topic: “Soviet Power Projection— the View of the Military”).
  • 1983-1986 BA in Political Science and International Relations, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel).


According to Camron Michael Amin, who is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, in his review of "Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity":

Shaffer has captured the complicated cultural trends in modern Azerbaijani society on both sides of the Araz and offered an excellent framework in which to interpret those trends. And, as is the case with all the best pioneering efforts, she has also created a promising point of departure for further inquiry... At its best (as in the account of the fall of Ayatollah Shariatmadari in the early days of the Islamic Republic), Shaffer's narrative is a mix of compelling journalism and Rankean rigor. The complexity of the subject and the many trends in Azerbaijani political culture occasionally overwhelm Shaffer's ability to impose interpretive coherence, but that does not diminish the scholarly achievement here. Indeed, Shaffer's effort to forge a coherent modern history of the Azerbaijani people is especially impressive when one considers the absence of certain sources: Iranian, Russian/Soviet, and Azerbaijani archival material and, as detailed in her appendix, precise demographic or socio-economic data on Azerbaijanis. Area specialists in all disciplines, policy researchers, students, and the general public will benefit from studying this work.[4]

Touraj Atabaki, who is a Professor of Social History at the University of Amsterdam and a Senior Research Fellow at the International Institute of Social History, critically challenged Shaffer in his review of her "Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity"[5]

With Brenda Shaffer's Borders and Brethren one would expect a contribution to our understanding of future developments in Iran as well as in the neighboring countries. Within the first two chapters, however, the reader becomes disappointed with the unbalanced and sometimes even biased political appraisal that not only dominates the author's methodology but also shapes her selective amnesia in recalling historical data."

Atabaki concludes his review by stating "Borders and Brethren is an excellent example of how a political agenda can dehistoricize and decontextualize history".[5]

Ken Silverstein, of Harpers Magazine, in an article titled "Academics for Hire", comments:

Harvard's program is led by Brenda Shaffer, who is so eager to back regimes in the region that she makes Starr look like a dissident. A 2001 brief she wrote, “U.S. Policy toward the Caspian Region: Recommendations for the Bush Administration,” commended Bush for “intensified U.S. activity in the region, and the recognition of the importance of the area to the pursuit of U.S. national interests.” Shaffer has also called on Congress to overturn Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which was passed in 1992 and bars direct aid to the Azeri government. The law has not yet been repealed, but the Bush Administration has been waiving it since 2002, as a payoff for Azeri support in the “war on terrorism.”

Harvard's Caspian Studies Program receives a lot of money from both the oil companies and from some of the governments.” I share Starr's concerns here, and since I briefly mentioned Harvard in my original story, and since several readers asked for more details, let me provide it here. As I had previously reported, the Caspian Studies Program (CSP) was launched in 1999 with a $1 million grant from the United States‒Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC) and a consortium of companies led by ExxonMobil and Chevron. The program's other funders include Amerada Hess Corporation, ConocoPhillips, Unocal, and Glencore International...[6]

Evan Siegel in his review of Shaffers book, Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity, states[7]: "The book suffers from some general weaknesses. Its author is prone to make plausible generalizations which, however, are underdocumented when they are documented at all. At one point she claims, in the second half of the nineteenth century, some Azerbaijanis espoused Pan-Islamic ideology, and many of the supporters of Pan-Islam identified with Iran at this time. In addition, many Azerbaijanis were interested in their Turkic identity in a cultural sense, but few supported political unity with other Turkic peoples. The source she cites for this says nothing of the sort."

Evan Siegel strongly criticizes the book for being full of mistakes, inaccuracies, misinterpretation, and misquoting of sources and the book's failure to provide documentations to support Shaffer’s observations.[7]

In conclusion Evan Siegel adds[7]: "Brethren and Borders is a highly political book on an emotional subject which needs careful, dispassionate analysis. Its chapters on the historical background is full of inaccuracies. Its chapters on current events and trends include a few interesting observations which don’t appear in the literature, but most of it is readily available elsewhere."

The American historian Ralph E. Luker echoes Silversteins article, saying:

Silverstein's second article also implicates Harvard historian Brenda Shaffer, who is research director of the University's Caspian Studies Program, in similar apologias. These programs appear to be largely funded by regional regimes, American oil and industrial investors in the region, and right-wing foundations in the United States.[8]



  • Author of "Partners in Need: The Strategic Relationship of Russia and Iran" (the Washington Institute for Near East Policy).
  • Author of "Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity" (MIT Press, 2002).
  • Editor of "The Limits of Culture: Islam and Foreign Policy" (MIT Press, 2006).
  • Author of "Energy Politics" (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).

Book chapters:

  • “Iran’s Internal Azerbaijani Challenge: Implications for Policy in the Caucasus,” in Moshe Gammer (ed.), The Caucasus (London: Frank Cass, 2004).
  • “U.S. Policy in the South Caucasus,” in Dov Lynch (ed.) The South Caucasus: a challenge for the EU (Chaillot Paper 65, EU ISS, December 2003).
  • “Azerbaijan” in Waisman and Vasserman (ed.), Political Organizations in Central Asia and Azerbaijan: Sources and Documents (London: Frank Cass, 2003).
  • “Azerbaycan Cumhuryetinin Kurulusu: Iran’daki Azeriler Uzerinde Etkisi”, in Emine Gursoy-Naskali and Erdal Sahin (eds.) Turk Cumhuriyetleri (Amsterdam/Istanbul, SOTA Publications, 2002)(in Turkish).
  • “Postscript” in David Menashri (ed.), Central Asia Meets the Middle East (London: Frank Cass, 1998).

Articles, Papers, etc

Dr. Shaffer's articles have appeared in a number of newspapers and journals, including an article in Current History entitled “Is there a Muslim Foreign Policy?” and “Iran at the Nuclear Threshold” (Arms Control Today; November 2003). Her Opinion Editorials have been published in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, and The Jerusalem Post.[9] [4]


  1. ^ University of Haifa. School of Political Sciences - Faculty: Dr. Brenda Shaffer
  2. ^
  3. ^ Dr. Brenda Shaffer
  4. ^ Camron Michael Amin. "Review of Brenda Shaffer, Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity," H-Gender-MidEast, H-Net Reviews, August, 2003.
  5. ^ a b Touraj Atabaki, Review of "Brenda Shaffer, Borders and Brethren, Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijan Identity", In Slavic Review, 63:1 (2004). Also here: [1]
  6. ^ Academics for Hire - Tuesday, May 30, 2006
  7. ^ a b c Evan Siegal, Reviews:, Iranian Studies, Volume 37, Issue 1 March 2004 , pages 140 – 143. Published by Routeledge Taylor Francis Group. Also here [2]
  8. ^ History News Network
  9. ^

External links

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