Big news for recent CMES PhDs

July 10, 2012
Zahra Jamal
Zahra Jamal speaking at Harvard on her research titled "'Work no words': Voluntarism, subjectivity, and moral economies of exchange among Khoja Ismaili Muslims."

The past year has brought some great news for several recent CMES graduates, including assistant professorships at the University of Chicago and Columbia University, a fellowship at a DC-based think tank, and the publication of a book with Oxford University Press. As we have limited space in our newsletter to report on alumni accomplishments, we wanted to share more detail here.

Alireza Doostdar (PhD ’12) is joining the faculty of the University of Chicago Divinity School as an assistant professor of Islamic studies and the anthropology of religion. His position will be associated with two areas of study: “Islamic studies” and the “anthropology and sociology of religion.” Alireza will start teaching in the 2012–13 winter quarter with a course titled “Shi`ism: History, Memory, Politics.” In the spring quarter, he’ll teach two additional courses: "The Anthropology of Religion" and "Modern Enchantments: The Occult, the Paranormal, and the Extraterrestrial." All three are graduate-level courses.

Ahmed El Shamsy (PhD ’09) began an assistant professorship in Islamic thought in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago in July 2010, and has recently joined the roster of associated faculty members at the Divinity School. (The position has a long and illustrious pedigree: it was held previously by Wadad Kadi, and before her by Fazlur Rahman.) Ahmed supervises several doctoral students and teaches courses including “Readings in Islamic Theology and Hermeneutics,” “The Medieval Muslim Curriculum,” and “Introduction to Islamic Law,” as well as a survey course on modern Islamic thought and literature and an intensive course on education and knowledge in Muslim North Africa, which he taught in Rabat, Morocco as part of the university's study abroad program. He’s currently putting the finishing touches on his first book (tentatively titled The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History) and beginning his next, which examines the effect of printing on the Islamic scholarly tradition in the early twentieth century.

Zahra Jamal (PhD ’08) is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), a DC-based think tank, where she conducts research and writes policy reports, briefs, and op-eds. She was recently hired as the assistant director of Center for the Study of American Muslims (CSAM), one of ISPU’s two research centers. In this capacity she conducts and oversees policy-relevant research on topics such as Islam in prisons, American Muslim political participation, the Sharia controversy, and American Muslim women leaders; supports outreach with universities, policy makers, and media outlets; raises money for research; and directs research priorities. Zahra is also a Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago, and was recently called on to advise Special Representative Farah Pandith of the U.S. Department of State on opportunities for American Muslim engagement. Her publication on American Muslim charitable giving has been circulated at the White House at the urging of one of President Obama's advisors, and she has been encouraged to offer Congressional testimony on the same.

Mana Kia (PhD ’11) has been hired as assistant professor of Indo-Persian studies in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia University, starting in the fall of 2013. Previously called Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures (MELAC), the department has since grown immensely, diversifying itself disciplinarily and expanding its regional focus. Mana’s position will specialize in Persian culture in South Asia, and also link the study of South Asia with that of the Middle East, which is a great fit since her work is about Persian culture and society in and between South Asia and the Middle East. Mana is currently in the middle of a two-year postdoc at the Center for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, where she’s working on a number of projects, including a collaborative book project looking at the entangled conceptual history of civility, virtue and emotions in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe and Asia. She’s also working on a project about ideas and practices of friendship, love and loyalty in South Asian Persianate culture and society in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Finally, she is revising her dissertation for publication, tentatively titled Eighteenth Century Difference and the Transregional Contours of Persianate Community.

Martin NguyenMartin Nguyen (PhD ’09) recently published Sufi Master and Qur'an Scholar: al-Qushayri and the Lata'if al-Isharat (Oxford University Press, February 2012). As described on the Oxford University Press website:

[The] book is the first extensive examination of the medieval Qur'an commentary known as the Latā'if al-Ishārāt and the first critical biography of its author, the famous spiritual master Abū'l-Qasim al-Qushayrī. Written in fifth/eleventh-century Nishapur, an intellectual and cultural crossroads of the Muslim world, the Latā'if al-Ishārāt has endured down through the centuries as an important work of Sufi exegesis. A mystical vision of reality is taught through its line-by-line treatment of the Qur'an as its author was writing as both a Sufi teacher and scholar. This study fully investigates al-Qushayrī's life and historical horizon and carefully analyses the structure and method of the commentary. The primary aim of the book is to draw greater attention to the other traditions of exegesis that inform the Sufi approach of the Latā'if al-Ishārāt, an understudied feature of many Sufi commentaries in general.

Martin is an assistant professor of Islamic studies in the Religious Studies Department at Fairfield University. He blogs at

For more recent news about CMES alumni, check out our Spring 2012 Newsletter.

See also: CMES News