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ME/SA Seminar


The Middle East/South Asia Studies Seminar is a network of graduate students from UC Davis, Stanford, and UC Berkeley who are working on research projects in and about the Middle East or South Asia.  The seminar meets monthly (occasionally more frequently) at the home of Prof. Suad Joseph.  Each month, two of the seminar members present their work. This has included book chapters and articles in progress, funding proposals, seminar papers, and other writing. In advance of the meeting, the two members send their work to all seminar members, who read the work prior to the meeting.  Seminar members workshop the contributions of their colleagues during the evening seminar, taking turns to comment and raise questions.  Members have varied over the years, coming from Anthropology, History, Cultural Studies, Education, Political Science in recent years. The variation in members' disciplinary training, geographical area of study, theoretical orientation, and stage in academic career helps those presenting work consider their projects from new angles. No units are attached to the seminar. Participation is by permission of Prof. Joseph.  The ME/SA Seminar constitutes a unique academic community around the study of the Middle East and South Asia, where members benefit from the thoughts of a supportive, varied group of scholars. The seminar has been formative – even transformational – for many of its members.

Current participants

Stephen Cox

UC Davis Department of History

Stephen Cox’s research concerns the Muslim Brotherhood during the 1950s and 60s, the prison decades when the Brotherhood was persecuted and blocked from their traditional activism. During the presidency of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the Muslim Brotherhood was rounded up en masse and subjected to imprisonment, torture, and death. For Brotherhood activists in the prisons, as well as those working underground on the outside, this period of persecution, known as the Mihna, was a period of struggle in discerning a way forward for the group. This self-reflection sparked theological and social debates which would profoundly change the group and set the stage for its later political projects and popular support. Debates in the prison - both among Islamic activists and between them and their fellow prisoners (often communists) - centered around the nature of the state, Islam in the twentieth century, the Muslim activist's individual identity and role in society, and the activist community's needs and future path. Outside the prisons, activists struggled to continue their work in a political environment of extraordinary danger and restriction. Their own debates on identity, the nature of the state and of Islam, and led them to innovative strategies in contesting the Nasserist state and side-stepping restrictions placed on the public sphere. These debates and innovations, in and out of Egypt's prisons, became powerful ideological and practical models for the group's future as well as for Islamic activists the world over in contending with hostile and often persecutory political regimes. 


Tanzeen R. Doha

UC Davis Department of Anthropology

Tanzeen R. Doha is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of California, Davis. He is writing an ethnography that draws from and critiques political history, archaeology, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and critical race theory to examine the history of anti-Islamism within modern secularity. Specifically, his research focuses on the May 5-6, 2013 massacre of Islamic clerics and students in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He examines how a specific archive of death and memory is being organized in the aftermath of the massacre. 


Rachel Feldman

UC Davis Department of Anthropology

Rachel Feldman’s dissertation is entitled “The Third Temple Movement from Margins to Mainstream: Examining the Gender, Race, and Class Normativity of Messianic Zionism.” The movement to rebuild the Third Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif in Jerusalem has grown significantly since 2000, moving from the margins of Israel’s religious society into a more mainstream religious-nationalist demographic. Believing that the rebuilding of the temple will usher in messianic times, Third Temple activists are preparing sacred temple objects, architectural plans, and leading weekly pilgrimages to the mount. Feldman’s dissertation examines this recent mainstreaming of the Third Temple Movement. From 2014-2016, she conducted ethnographic research with a variety of Third Temple activists, including Rabbis, members of the youth movement, pilgrimage guides, and the Orthodox Jewish women who view themselves as the maternal protectors of the Temple Mount. Previous literature on Israel's messianic right wing has largely focused on charismatic male leaders, and when it does attend to gender, this literature overlooks the complex intersections of race and class within this demographic. Feldman’s dissertation attempts to fill in this gap, by examining race and class alongside the gendered activism of her informants. The ability of the Third Temple Movement to mainstream, she argues, is a function of its gender-race-class normativity. The Ashkenazi whiteness and privileged middle class status of the majority of the temple movement enables it to successfully access resources and police protection from the secular state apparatus, even as a part of a messianic and so-called “fundamentalist” movement. By placing the Temple Movement within Israel’s racial and class hierarchy, and examining a variety of gendered activist strategies, Feldman illustrates how this spiritual project facilitates Zionist expansion.


Yasemin Ipek

Stanford University Department of Anthropology

Yasemin Ipek is a Dissertation Writer in the Anthropology Department at Stanford University. She did her fieldwork between 2012 and 2015 in Beirut, Lebanon where she explored the contesting imaginaries of social change and political subjectivity, focusing on how poor, unemployed, and middle-class urban communities practice both activism and political entrepreneurship through politics of hope. Looking at contested narratives of suspension, dreaming, and deferral, she unpacks how local practices of hope could simultaneously mobilize and discipline in addition to how civil society could mute inequalities related to class, gender, and sect. 

Justin Skye Malachowski

UC Davis Department of Anthropology

Justin Skye Malachowski works in Tunisia and explores questions of aesthetics, landscape, social media, desire, and democratization. Currently he is exploring the types of memories, traumas and fantasies about democracy that emerge in the gap between the confrontation with material places and the digital and artistic reproductions, maintenance, and invention of places. His interest specifically lies in understanding how the difference between material and abstract places is blurred and curated to arouse bodies and affect knowledges and practices concerning democracy. 


Caroline McKusick

UC Davis Department of Anthropology

Caroline McKusick is writing her dissertation in Anthropology at UC Davis. McKusick’s dissertation focuses on a project of all-women journalism and media production led by Kurdish women in Diyarbakir, Turkey. McKusick looks at how journalism is conceived as a site of gendered subject making, as journalists work to bring Kurdish women before the camera and to radically edit media reports in order to reveal a latent “world of women.”


Hakeem Naim

UC Davis Department of History

Hakeem Naim received his B.A from the University of California, Berkeley in Middle Eastern Studies and was a Robert & Colleen Hass scholar. He was subsequently admitted to UC Davis History Department, where he is currently obtaining his PhD in modern Middle East History. In his research, Naim focuses on the 19th century Islamic nationalism and comparative studies of religious nationalism in the Ottoman Empire, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.  Naim’s doctoral research offers a critique of the scholarship that sees Afghanistan as a failed nation-state.  His argument, rather, is that it is liberal and neo-liberal modernity project that produces the “failed nation-state.  He undertakes this analysis through intensive archival work and readings on the Ottoman Empire and the “West” in relationship to late 19th and early 20th century Afghanistan. He has a command of both Middle Eastern and Central Asian languages, including Persian

(Dari, Tajiki), Turkish (Modern and Ottoman Turkish), Arabic, Pashto, and Uzbek.


Mehmet Fatih Tatari

UC Davis Department of Anthropology

Mehmet Fatih Tatari’s research examines animal husbandry and cheesemaking practices on the Northeastern border of Turkey. In particular, he studies the collaborations and conflicts among local communities; how their use of space exceeds or enforces nation state borders. Tatari is interested in the encounters of the farmer organizations with the state, as well as in the emergent spaces of collaboration between farmers and scientists around local cheese. His research interests are in anthropology of food, peasant studies, political ecology, anthropology of the state, and social studies of science.


Past participants

David Stenner

Assistant Professor of Modern Middle East and North African History at Christopher Newport University in Virginia

David Stenner’s PhD dissertation, entitled Networking for Independence: The Moroccan Nationalist Movement’s Global Campaign Against Colonialism, 1942-1958, examines how the activists of the Istiqlal (Independence) Party conducted a worldwide publicity campaign which contributed to the abolishing of the French and Spanish Protectorates in 1956. Organized around propaganda offices on three different continents, the nationalists successfully created an international network of supporters that helped them present their case before world public opinion during the early Cold War era and convinced the UN to deal with the status of Morocco. Stenner argues that the very structure of the nationalists’ nonhierarchical and flexible propaganda network and their activities abroad allowed them to prevail in their struggle against the colonizers, but also enabled King Mohammed V to co-opt it after independence and transform the Istiqlal from the ruling into an opposition party. Its informal nature constituted an advantage at first, but eventually turned into a serious liability, as the competition for control of the levers of power intensified. Furthermore, the skills, resources, and personal connections, which the nationalists had acquired during their campaign abroad, strengthened the King’s hand once he had coopted many of the network’s participants, thus laying the foundation for the pro-Western authoritarian monarchy that persists until today. The project is based on two years of archival research in Morocco, France, Spain, the United States and Great Britain. It utilizes methodologies developed by Social Network Analysis to evaluate informal alliances across borders, while incorporating these numerical approaches into a qualitative framework of analysis. At its core, this project deals with the relationship between nationalist agitation at home and abroad and the differences between formal and informal ways of organizing political activism. It contributes to current debates in the field of international history, for example the era of decolonization and the Cold War in the Third World.

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