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“Border Walls and the Politics of Becoming Non-Human”

Miriam Ticktin Associate Professor, and Chair Anthropology Department The New School for Social Research

Thursday, September 7th, 4:30pm American Studies Department Room 404 Morrill Hall

** co-sponsored with French Studies

In this talk I am concerned by the ways in which border walls and zones come not simply to defend (for example, certain territories), but also to define  -- that is, to shape or alter categories of natural and human kinds. I will suggest that border walls -- such as those at the border of (predominantly Christian) Spain and (predominantly Muslim) Morocco, as well as between France and the United Kingdom -- and all the surrounding and auxiliary technologies they harness, work by shifting how we understand different kinds of beings, ultimately rendering certain kinds killable.


“Sahelian Muslim Women, Lived Islam, and Ethical Aesthetics”

Ousseina Alidou University Professor of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures Rutgers University

Monday, September 18th, 4:30pm American Studies Department Room 404 Morrill Hall

Since the 1990s Sahelian African countries with both majority and minority Muslim populations have been experimenting with democratic systems that have resulted in both political pluralism (with a gendered dimension), and a renewed place for Islam in both private and public spheres. This dialogue will highlight the prominent roles Sahelian Muslim women are playing in these democratization struggles, and their emergence as agents in national and global social reform movements, advocating for women’s rights in the region and beyond. These movements manifest a diversity of trajectories and objectives within secular and/or Islamic frameworks.  Strikingly, however, the majority converges on a common quest for gender justice against local and external hegemonic forces, ranging from cultural patriarchal Islamic understandings, the patriarchal state, and neoliberalism. Starting with the social and politico-economic contexts within which many Sahelian Muslim women’s social movements have arisen in recent times, this dialogue will focus on specific social frames – education, sexuality and family law, media and arts – to explore some of the manifestations and workings of Muslim women’s agency and movements in the Sahel. In the final analysis, the examination of the diversity of Sahelian Muslim women’s social impacts will highlight how they read Islam within both secular and Islamic prisms, and how they transform hegemonic Islamic interpretations for the purpose of forging ethical aesthetics of living and being that honor human dignity.


"Early Islamic Internationalism: The Case of the Lost Caliphate"

Mona Hassan Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, Duke University

** co-sponsored with Near Eastern Studies

Monday, October 2nd, 4:30pm Near Eastern Studies Department Room 106 White Hall

In her recent book Longing for the Lost Caliphate: A Transregional History, Mona Hassan explores the myriad meanings of the caliphate for Muslims around the world through the analytical lens of two key moments of loss in the thirteenth and twentieth centuries. Through extensive primary-source research, Hassan explores the rich constellation of interpretations created by religious scholars, historians, musicians, statesmen, poets, and intellectuals.  Hassan fills a scholarly gap regarding Muslim reactions to the destruction of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in 1258 and challenges the notion that the Mongol onslaught signaled an end to the critical engagement of Muslim jurists and intellectuals with the idea of an Islamic caliphate. She also situates Muslim responses to the dramatic abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924 as part of a longer trajectory of transregional cultural memory, revealing commonalities and differences in how modern Muslims have creatively interpreted and reinterpreted their heritage. Hassan examines how poignant memories of the lost caliphate have been evoked in Muslim culture, law, and politics, similar to the losses and repercussions experienced by other religious communities, including the destruction of the Second Temple for Jews and the fall of Rome for Christians.



“Islam and Muslims between Central Asia and China: An Historical Perspective”

Ron Sela Director, Islamic Studies Program and Associate Professor, Central Eurasian Studies Indiana University

Thursday, October 19th, 4:30pm American Studies Department Room 404 Morrill Hall

Relations between China and Central Asia have been attracting considerable attention of late. Along with China’s economic expansion efforts, the hunt for new sources of energy, and so-called “new Great Game” or “new Silk Road” strategies and rivalries, scholars and pundits have tended to emphasize unfolding political alliances in challenging or containing Islam. In this talk, I consider several fundamental portrayals of China–Central Asia relations that have been invoked in Western, Russian and Central Asian literature, past and present, examining them through the lenses of religious and cultural motivations and influences. While it is tempting to view current events through national – or, nationalist – perspectives and borders, perhaps a comparison with a pre-national age (namely, nineteenth-century Russian and Qing imperial polities) in the region (e.g., the vast territory east of the Caspian, south of the West Siberian Plain, north of the Pamir–Kunlun mountain ranges and west of the Turpan oasis) may yield a more interesting set of insights.


“Rare Islamic Books in the Kroch/Olin Library Collection”

Ali Houissa, Curator, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Cornell University Libraries

Thursday, November 2nd, 3-4pm Curatorial Space, Kroch Archives Basement 2 Level, Kroch Library

Our CMS seminar today will be led by Ali Houissa, Curator of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in Kroch Library, who will be hosting a group to come and see precious objects in the library's collection about Islam.  We have many world-class books, some of them centuries old, which show the history and evolution of Islam over a long period, and across many cultures.  This is a wonderful opportunity to see some of the treasures of Cornell’s collection that are rarely seen, and which span centuries of time and thousands of miles of geography in Islamic lands from Morocco to Indonesia.  This hour-long session will be open and free to the public.


“The Politics of the Non-Political:  Carpet Merchants of the Holy City of Qum”

Narges Erami Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Yale University

Thursday, November 16th, 4:30pm American Studies Department Room 404 Morrill Hall

In the early 1990s, carpet-producing merchants in the holy city of Qum, a pilgrimage destination and Iran’s center for Shi’i knowledge and learning, enjoyed unprecedented autonomy within the Islamic Republic of Iran.  By creating a professional association, called the ittiḥādīyih, the merchants developed a reputation for honesty and fairness. While the ittiḥādīyih, as an organizational body, functioned primarily to resolve commercial disputes among carpet merchants, it had transitioned slowly into a space for airing grievances and a means to subvert local authority and achieve justice through mercantile acumen. Instead of appealing to the local police, courts or clerics, the merchants sought justice and resolution to their everyday problems at the ittiḥādīyih.  At these meetings religious clerics who held judicial positions as well as members of law enforcement were invited to opine on the given matter, but only as an extension of the merchant community.  This represented a partial circumvention of state laws.  The presence of local authorities at these meetings signaled a legitimization of this tactical maneuvering by the merchants.   At the ittiḥādīyih there was an open mistrust of state laws, their ineffectiveness in delivering judicious order and their potential involvement of outsiders in what were deemed community matters. My work demonstrates processual actions taken by the merchants to extend the role of the ittiḥādīyih by fortifying their community’s distinctiveness.


"United in Eclecticism: The Last Ulama of Bukhara"

James Pickett Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Pittsburgh

Thursday, November 30th, 4:30pm American Studies Department Room 404 Morrill Hall

The Arabic term "ulama" is ubiquitous in most studies of Islam. The direct translation is relatively straightforward: "those who know." But who were the ulama, exactly? What were the contours of this social group, and what explains its endurance throughout the long run of history? This study focuses on Islamic scholars in Central Asia from the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries. It offers an expansive view of Islamic scholars, demonstrating that they were not only jurists (often the implicit definition of 'ulama'), but also mystics, occultists, poets, physicians, and calligraphers - all at the same time. The ulama stood as a single milieu that performed a wide range of social roles and mastered diverse forms of knowledge. This eclecticism set them apart both from both their forebears and their successors, and produced an efflorescence of Perso-Islamic culture on the eve of revolution.