What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

American Universities and the Fate of the Middle East

February 3, 2011, 3:21 PM

As governments teeter throughout the Middle East, the political outcomes of the populist Arab revolts—Western style democracy, Islamist theocracy, or something in the middle—are largely out of the West's control. But international relations expert Parag Khanna suggests that a choice made ten years ago—not by the State department, but by American universities—could have the greatest impact: 

"At the time of greatest animosity between the United States and the Arab world after 9/11, it was American universities that said 'since we’re having difficulty getting our top tier Arab students visas to come to the United States, we’re going to work with the foreign governments in the Arab world to bring our campuses over there.' And if you look one decade later there has been a flourishing of American higher education in the Middle East."  

This decision to set up satellite campuses across the Middle East was "the most positive act of public diplomacy that the U.S. could have taken in the last 10 years," says Khanna. 

The notion of the university as a global player is nothing new. "In the Middle Ages, universities were very important actors," says Khanna. "The great global universities in Bologna, London, Paris and so forth that were formed during the Middle Ages spread knowledge much farther than just in their local communities, and the university is back as a global player in diplomacy."

And this development underscores the changing face of global diplomacy—something Khanna calls "mega-diplomacy." In our ever-shrinking world, diplomacy is no longer something practiced just by states; individual actors—universities, companies, philanthropists, etc.—can play a greater role in global affairs. 

More Resources:

NY Times article about American universities' scramble to set up Middle East outposts

Video of Council of Foreign Relations-sponsored panel on the progressive role of American universities in the Middle East 


American Universities and t...

Newsletter: Share: