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ME/SA Seminar


About

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

Rim Zahra

Sonoma State University

Department of English

Razzan Zahra

University of Phoenix

College of Humanities and Sciences, Sacramento Valley Campus

Ghada Samman is a Syrian-Lebanese celebrated poet and author who has been a leading voice for Arab women's rights and sexual freedom while also exposing the horrors of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).  She has produced over fifty works in a variety of genres, including short stories, novels, literary criticism, prose, and poetry.  Dr. Rim Zahra and Dr. Razzan Zahra are co-translating Capturing Freedom’s Cry: Arab Women Unveil Their Heart, a poetry collection by celebrated Syrian-Lebanese poet and author, Ghada Samman that is set in the early years of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1979). This body of work, previously published in Arabic as I’tikal Lahzah Haribah (Capturing a Fleeting Moment), contains over sixty poems. In them, we hear about the horrors of the times including war, corruption, and women’s oppression. Through her female narrators, Samman unveils courageous and yet vulnerable female voices who share with the reader the atrocities of war and their personal struggles with love and longing. The focus of this project is to accurately capture the traumatic effects that conflicting interests, political powers, and societal influences had on life in Lebanon.

 

Vladimir Hamed-Troyansky

Stanford University

Department of History

Vladimir Hamed-Troyansky is a historian of Middle Eastern migration. His dissertation examines how Muslim refugees from Russia's North Caucasus region transformed the late Ottoman Empire. Following the tsarist conquest of the Caucasus, over a million Muslims fled to and settled throughout the Ottoman state. His project investigates the political economy of refugee resettlement in the northern Balkans, central Anatolia, and the southern Levant, and explores how refugees constructed a trans-imperial space between the Ottoman and Russian empires between 1864 and 1914. Vladimir conducted archival research in Turkey, Jordan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the United Kingdom, and Russia, including the North Caucasus autonomous republics of Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, and Dagestan. His research has been supported by fellowships and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the American Historical Association (AHA), the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR), and the American Research Center in Sofia (ARCS).


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.


Stephen Cox

UC Davis

Department of History

My current project looks at the internal dynamics of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt before and during the period of imprisonment under President Gamal Abdel-Nasser from 1954-1970. Using internal dispatches, archived Brotherhood publications, and thoughtful memoirs by Brothers and Sisters, both published and circulated internally, I attempt to trace the discourses between members of the Brotherhood regarding the Islam and Islamic concepts; their mission and the da’wa movement more broadly; changing conceptions of what the ideal Islamic society should look like; shifting hegemonic conceptions of masculinity, family, and citizenship; and cross-pollination between the Brotherhood and other activists in Egyptian society and prisons at the time.

By analyzing the discourses of this important and influential group of Islamic activists, I hope to demonstrate the multiplicity of ideas within the group and the central role they’ve played in Islamic modernity in Egypt - and indeed worldwide. I hope to demonstrate the shifts in many of the ideas central to modern religious and secular subjectivities which found their genesis within the Muslim Brotherhood and in the exchanges between the Brotherhood and broader Egyptian society.

 

Rajbir Singh

UC Davis

Department of History

My dissertation explores the various imaginings Duleep Singh, the deposed Maharaja of Punjab, occupied in his transnational intrigue against British rule at the end of the 19th century. I investigate how Singh’s attempt to foster revolution cannot be reduced to his transnational alliances and failed maneuverings alone. Rather, my dissertation argues that Singh was as an enchanted symbol of contestation for Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, and Theosophists, functioning as a common frame of reference as the traditions engaged in inter- and intra-theological debate, cross-border movement, bodily discipline, literary production, and the cultivation of ethical practice. Generative of multiple questions and positions, I argue these imaginings of Singh kept sovereignty, alongside social and political change, open to continuous argumentation and experimentation. Thus, my dissertation foregrounds the productive, though often discordant and antagonistic, capacities of tradition, continuously offering hope for a world burdened by the regulatory and physical power of the colonial state.

 

Jaime Jackson

UC Davis

Department of Political Science

"Chemical Weapons Taboo and Aid Allocation During Conflict: The Case of Syria" (Jaime Jackson and Lowell West, UC Davis) -- -Since the end of WWI and the signing of the Geneva Protocol on chemical weapons, an internationally recognized taboo has existed on the use of chemical weapons. Yet, this international norm has not prevented signatories of the protocol from violating this norm. The recent civil conflict in Syria has reignited these concerns and sparked questions about the safety of civilians and aid workers in the targeted regions. We ask how the use and/or taboo of chemical weapons in Syria by the government forces has influenced the actions of aid workers providing assistance to conflict zones. We leverage the use of a unique data set covering regional use of chemical and conventional barrel bombs attacks as well as USAID reports of aid allocation to explore this question. We employ a matching design for causal inference of the effect of chemical weapons on the allocation of aid. As the Syrian government is reported to use an indiscriminate counterinsurgency strategy that uses chemical and conventional weapons interchangeably, we believe this design will capture the causal effects of chemical attacks on aid dispersal. We expect that the taboo of chemical weapons has a significant impact on aid allocations in Syria despite the fact that their lethality does not exceed that of conventional attacks. This project has important implications for aid organizations on the perceived and actual effects of chemical weapons in conflict zones.

 

"Anticipating External Support: NGO Networks and Supporting Nonviolent Action in Lebanon"--Jaime Jackson. External actors play a significant role in the dynamics of violent and nonviolent resistance, yet little is known about how the anticipation of their support influences the decisions of potential resistance groups. Importantly, potential resistance groups will consider the interests of relevant external actors and their likelihood of providing support to either their cause or the target government. This anticipation influences the strategic calculus of resistance groups and target governments and can tip the scales towards more or less violent strategies. In this paper I explore, to what extent anticipation of external support from external actors influences 1) whether or not groups resist and 2) the conditions that favor the use of nonviolent methods. I utilize quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate the role of NGOs on potential resistance in Lebanon. I argue that NGOs more than any other external actor are uniquely positioned to support the use of nonviolent methods in both direct and indirect ways. 

 

Eveleen Sidana

UC Davis

Department of Anthropology

My research project entails understanding the modes of urbanization being innovated and adopted to build new cities and to refurbish old cities into ‘smart cities’. Are these modes of urbanization a continuation of the building of modernist cities such as Chandigarh by Corbusier and Paris by Haussmann? Holston's work on Brasilia informs us about the intent of the design of Brasilia to negate historical connections, associating nationalism to civic pride and aesthetics while reshaping social interaction and contouring the crowd in design. The designing of cities, be it cities built from scratch, or the old cities being retrofitted, continues with major tenets of modern urbanism but also has some new interesting elements. Data gathering and responsive architecture are not just projects for corporate offices but projects being envisioned with urban spaces posing the problems or the base for implementation of the projects. The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) in India began in 2014 has in its ambit ninety-eight cities and aims at urban renewal, infrastructure building, standardization of use of resources and such like. Similarly, Europe, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and scores of other countries are building cities with high-tech components. Showcasing making of these cities, my questions revolve around the use of design as a conceptual field in implementing these projects as urban projects.  

 

Muneeza Rizvi

UC Davis

Department of Anthropology

Muneeza Rizvi is a third-year PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis. Her ethnographic research focuses on a Western European network of Islamic scholars (ulama) based in London. With an eye toward contemporary discourses about the "crisis of sectarianism" in the Muslim world, she examines how this network of ulama has come to conceptualize intra-Muslim difference in London through the discourse of fitna. While crisis narratives about 'sectarianism' anchor themselves in secular concepts of time and redemption, Islamic deployments of fitna - a polysemic term signifying internal affliction, error, and rupture - represent a richer mode of knowing, maintaining, evaluating, and curbing difference. In this sense, her research accounts for the ways in which moral vocabularies, ethical worlds, and transnational debates intersect in th  e lived experiences of Muslims in London.

 

Jean-Michel Landry

Banting Postdoctoral Scholar

Department of Anthropology, McGill University
My current research project analyses how the Lebanese state configures Shi‘i Islamic law (shari‘a) as an instrument of legal governance. It considers the ethical, political and material implications of incorporating Shi‘i law into the Lebanese legal machinery to execute a distinctly modern task: governing family life. I argue that the Lebanese state can govern Shi‘i families only insofar as it simultaneously transforms Shi‘i Shari‘a law—both by undermining its open-endedness and reconfiguring its internal possibilities. At stake here is a shift in the ways law and ethics are articulated: mobilizing Shi‘i law for the purpose of state governance entails severing it from the ethical framework which sustains it. This shift, I argue, reorients Shi‘i law’s unique capacity for renewal (ijtihad), away from serving the everyday concerns of pious Shi‘i Muslims and toward ensuring the legal authority of the state.

 

Tory Brykalski

UC Davis

Department of Anthropology

I am currently in Lebanon conducting research together with Syrian artists, caregivers, educators, activists, and humanitarian workers. Theoretically, my research takes as its subject the concept and significance of childhood in times of destruction and unimaginable futures. In particular, it investigates the ways in which different individuals and groups enrolled in the Syrian revolution, counter-revolutionary war, and forced displacement mobilize and reformulate experiences and expectations of childhood, child-care, and educating children in exile. Ethnographically, my research also seeks to address a subset of questions about the nature of humanitarian work amongst forcibly displaced Syrian children in Lebanon, the ways in which the figure of the Syrian child is being mobilized in local and global discourses, and the various ways in which particular Syrian children and families intentionally seek to speak back to these discourses and pursue alternative modes of self-care, politics, and education.

 

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 what she calls "politics of hope". Looking at narratives of crisis, suspension, dreaming, and deferral, she unpacks how politics of hope could mobilize new conversations and movements that contest sectarianism, national identity and belonging. She completed a second PhD degree in Department of Political Science, Bilkent University where she examined how intra-elite competition over memory-making, morality and selfhood during 1920s shape emergence of conservative nationalism in contemporary Turkey. She is broadly interested in issues of activism, civil society, nationalism, and sectarianism as well as theories of selfhood, morality, affect, and temporality. 

 

Tanzeen Rashed Doha

UC Davis

Department of Anthropology

Tanzeen Rashed Doha is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at University of California, Davis. His ethnographic research focuses on the confrontation between what he terms “national secularism” and Islam in contemporary Bangladesh. More specifically, in his dissertation, tentatively titled “Mediations Between Terror and Madness: Massacre, Memory, and Islam in Bangladesh,” Doha examines a mass killing of Islamic practitioners in Dhaka, Bangladesh on May 5-6, 2013, to conceptualize the relation between the repressive violence of the secular state and the larger logic of the global War on Terror. Prior to Anthropology, Doha received graduate degrees in Philosophy, and Humanities.  

 

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.

 

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. 

 

Mehmet Fatih Tatari

UC Davis

Department of Anthropology

Mehmet Fatih Tatari’s research examines animal husbandry and cheese-making 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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