Publications by Faculty & Alumni

Ibn Hamdis the Sicilian: Eulogist for a Falling Homeland
Granara, William. Ibn Hamdis the Sicilian: Eulogist for a Falling Homeland. Oneworld Publications, 2021. Publisher's VersionAbstract

‘Abd al-Jabbar ibn Hamdis (1055-1133) survives as the best-known figure from four centuries of Arab-Islamic civilisation on the island of Sicily. There he grew up in a society enriched by a century of cultural development but whose unity was threatened by competing warlords. After the Normans invaded, he followed many other Muslims in emigrating, first to North Africa and then to Seville, where he began his career as a court poet.

Although he achieved fame and success in his time, Ibn Hamdis was forced to bear witness to sectarian strife among the Muslims of both Sicily and Spain, and the gradual success of the Christian reconquest, including the decline of his beloved homeland. Through his verse, William Granara examines his life and times.

Those Infidel Greeks: The Greek War of Independence through Ottoman Archival Documents
Ilıcak, H. Şükrü, ed. Those Infidel Greeks: The Greek War of Independence through Ottoman Archival Documents. Brill, 2021. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The documents edited by H. Şükrü Ilıcak in Those Indel Greeks comprise the English translations of select documents from the Ayniyat Registers on the Greek War of Independence preserved in the Ottoman State Archives. The primary importance of these documents is that they are a clear testimony of the larger imperial context in which the Greek War of Independence evolved and proved successful. The mass of information they contain is immense and allows the reader to follow on an almost day-to-day basis how an empire tried to suppress a national uprising—the rst of its kind in the early nineteenth century.

Contributors: Çağrı Erdoğan, H. Şükrü Ilıcak, Nikola Rakovski, Mehmet Savan, Kahraman Şakul, and Aysel Yıldız.

This is a co-publication with the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation.

Al-Rifay, Mouhanad. “Scattered Images: The Perpetual Destabilization of Family in Pursuit of Political Dominance (Palestine 1948–Syria 1980).” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2021.
Murphy, John Paul (Jack). “Earthquakes and Epidemics: The Impact of Natural Disasters on the ʿAbbāsid Revolution.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2021.
The Thousand and One Nights: Sources and Transformations in Literature, Art, and Science
Granara, William, and Ibrahim Akel, ed. The Thousand and One Nights: Sources and Transformations in Literature, Art, and Science. Brill, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The Thousand and One Nights does not fall into a scholarly canon or into the category of popular literature. It takes its place within a middle literature that circulated widely in medieval times. The Nights gradually entered world literature through the great novels of the day and through music, cinema and other art forms. Material inspired by the Nights has continued to emerge from many different countries, periods, disciplines and languages, and the scope of the Nights has continued to widen, making the collection a universal work from every point of view. The essays in this volume scrutinize the expanse of sources for this monumental work of Arabic literature and follow the trajectory of the Nights’ texts, the creative, scholarly commentaries, artistic encounters and relations to science.

Contributors: Ibrahim Akel, Rasoul Aliakbari, Daniel Behar, Aboubakr Chraïbi, Anne E. Duggan, William Granara, Rafika Hammoudi, Dominique Jullien, Abdelfattah Kilito, Magdalena Kubarek, Michael James Lundell, Ulrich Marzolph, Adam Mestyan, Eyüp Özveren, Marina Paino, Daniela Potenza, Arafat Abdur Razzaque, Ahmed Saidy, Johannes Thomann and Ilaria Vitali.

Collaço, Gwendolyn. “The Image as Commodity: The Commercial Market for Single-Folio Paintings in Ottoman Istanbul, 17th–18th C.History of Art and Architecture and MES, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, for most of the sixteenth century, only royalty and close companions of the sultan enjoyed the experience of perusing an album, the premier form of preserving and viewing single-folio works on paper. Yet in the last few decades of the century, the first surviving cases of commercial albums reveal that the practice had moved beyond the palace, attracting both wealthy Ottoman urbanites and European travelers alike. This dissertation delves into the history of the art market from the production to the consumption of loose-leaf paintings in numerous compilation formats. Although scholarship on Istanbul’s early modern art market and single-folio paintings has often centered on analyses of individual manuscripts, such as costume albums, this study aims to contextualize these single-folio paintings as part of a wider network of urban production. In this network, models and designs circulated between artists of numerous social groups and specialties, as well as through foreign import. The study further refocuses attention on codicology in order to illustrate how the trappings of a collection could profoundly impact the reception of the works within it and reveal precious detail about the backgrounds of the owners, many of whom remain anonymous today.
The dissertation begins by setting the stage for the emergence of the market for single-folio paintings by analyzing the antecedents to the commercial album through Ottoman court albums, portraits, and the works of unofficial court artists who lived in the city. It then turns to European genres such as costume books and alba amicorum (friendship albums), before turning to the first commercial album, which fuses features from the aforementioned areas. Chapter Two assesses production techniques, emphasizing the mobility of model forms, before turning to artists’ multi-professional backgrounds. The next two chapters delve into the collecting practices of the two main consumer groups. Chapter Three follows the development of costume albums primarily collected by European travelers over the seventeenth century as objects of novelty crafted from a commonplace corpus of models. It tracks the expansion of the model corpus, shifts in binding and mounting practices, and the relationships between albums (as well as their identified forgeries).

Chapter Four offers a history of compilation among urbanite Ottomans of a literati persuasion over the seventeenth century as a story of taste-making on the page. As the practice grew, artists began offering a wider range of works to suit multiple price points of paintings and bindings among their consumers. Chapter Five continues to follow Ottoman compilers into the eighteenth century after the court’s return to Istanbul in 1703, which coincided with a significant increase in album-making. This period brought about the rise of specialized painting collections. The market also began to engage with its past as later commercial albums provided a wider chronological range of paintings from numerous traditions, which included refurbished and creatively over-painted works. Rather than Westernization, these albums indicate a global outlook that reflected mercantile networks of the time. The last two chapters delve into the case of an unstudied trilogy of albums at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France that exemplifies these later trends. Together, they offer a hypothesis for the background of the owner while situating the albums in the local and transregional contexts that created this cosmopolitan work.

Razzaque, Arafat Abdur. “The Sin of Ghība in Early Islamic Thought: Disciplining the Tongue in the Zuhd Tradition and Its Late Antique Background.” History and MES, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation explores the form, substance and social context of pious exhortations in medieval Islamic history, focusing on ideas about gossip and slander. It is a study on a single concept of enduring significance in Islamic ethics, the notion of ghība or backbiting, defined as unwelcome statements of fact as opposed to false slander (buhtān). Prohibited by the Qurʾān, the mundane social vice of speaking ill about other people in their absence was a source of great moral concern, with ramifications in discourses of piety, religious ethics, ritual law, and eschatology. Early proponents of the isnād method for the authentication of ḥadīth had to frequently address the ethical quandary that their criticism of transmitters might be tantamount to sinful gossip. I demonstrate that the discourse on ghība stems from a broader ethics of “disciplining the tongue” among the early Muslim renunciants of the so-called zuhd movement. A major work by the Baghdadi scholar Ibn Abī l-Dunyā (d. 281 AH/894 CE), the Kitāb al-Ṣamt wa-ādāb al-lisān or “Book of Silence and Etiquettes of the Tongue” serves as a key point of departure for this study. I examine the traditions, stories and wise maxims on ghība in the context of zuhd, ḥadīth, tafsīr and fiqh sources, as well as their broader reception in pious ethics literature of the ninth and tenth centuries CE. Through close attention to motifs, I argue further that some early Muslim ideas about gossip and slander reflect older traditions of religious thought in late antiquity. The commonalities are evident especially in the Apophthegmata Patrum or Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Resonances can be traced as well through eschatological motifs common to Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian apocalyptic literature and Islamic imaginations of hell, in which the sin of backbiting is met with severe punishments. In contrast to conventional ancient punishment motifs for slander, Islamic eschatology introduces new types of scenes informed by the Qurʾānic metaphor of ghība as eating the flesh of another. Early Muslim ethical discourses thus interpreted a universal moral concern through a combination of inherited traditions and original elements.

Schwerda, Mira Xenia. “How Photography Changed Politics: The Case of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911).” History of Art and Architecture and MES, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

My dissertation reconceptualizes the Iranian Constitutional period (1905-1911) as an era of spectacle, in which photography played a central role in defining, mobilizing, and memorializing political movements and their leaders. The first chapter of my dissertation traces the role and impact of one specific photograph: a portrait of Joseph Naus, the Belgian head of the Iranian tax and customs systems, in the costume of an Iranian mullah. The circulation of the photograph, which had been reproduced as a postcard with a caption that purposefully misinterpreted the image, sparked a nationwide protest and turned the previously economic protest into a religiously legitimated one. The photograph became the basis for a fatwa and death threats to Naus. The second chapter discusses photographs of political protest. It focuses on a key event of the Constitutional Revolution, a several weeks-long sit-in during the summer of 1906 in the gardens of the British Legation in Tehran. In my research, I was able to prove that the so far unattributed series of photographs of this event was taken by the well-known photographer Antoin Sevruguin. The third chapter focuses on political portrait photographs from the second half of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, which was characterized by revolutionary and counter-revolutionary violence. I analyze portraits of Iranian assassins and their victims and show how these acts of violence were influenced by global political movements and international media coverage. The epilogue of my dissertation focuses on the events directly following the Constitutional Revolution, when the Russian army invaded Tabriz and executed the remaining revolutionaries. I discuss the photographic documentation of the events, the circulation of the images, and their changing interpretations.

Contesting the Iranian Revolution: The Green Uprisings
Alimagham, Pouya. Contesting the Iranian Revolution: The Green Uprisings. Cambridge University Press, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Most observers of Iran viewed the Green Uprisings of 2009 as a 'failed revolution', with many Iranians and those in neighbouring Arab countries agreeing. In Contesting the Iranian Revolution, however, Pouya Alimagham re-examines this evaluation, deconstructing the conventional win-lose binary interpretations in a way which underscores the subtle but important victories on the ground, and reveals how Iran's modern history imbues those triumphs with consequential meaning. Focusing on the men and women who made this dynamic history, and who exist at the centre of these contentious politics, this 'history from below' brings to the fore the post-Islamist discursive assault on the government's symbols of legitimation. From powerful symbols rooted in Shiʿite Islam, Palestinian liberation, and the Iranian Revolution, Alimagham harnesses the wider history of Iran and the Middle East to highlight how activists contested the Islamic Republic's legitimacy to its very core.

Clager, Hannah M.The "Houthification" of Education in Yemen: A Revival of Pedagogical Battlegrounds?Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2020.
Ellis, Eleanor Takenaka. “The Afterlives of Aftershocks: Collective Memory and the 1992 Cairo Earthquake.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2020.
Khoury, Maria. “Ghosts and Parallel Times: The Haunting of Palestinian Citizens of Israel.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2020.
Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader
Penslar, Derek. Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader. Yale University Press, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

From the prizewinning Jewish Lives series, a masterful new biography of Theodor Herzl by an eminent historian of Zionism.

The life of Theodor Herzl (1860–1904) was as puzzling as it was brief. How did this cosmopolitan and assimilated European Jew become the leader of the Zionist movement? How could he be both an artist and a statesman, a rationalist and an aesthete, a stern moralist yet possessed of deep, and at times dark, passions? And why did scores of thousands of Jews, many of them from traditional, observant backgrounds, embrace Herzl as their leader?

Drawing on a vast body of Herzl’s personal, literary, and political writings, historian Derek Penslar shows that Herzl’s path to Zionism had as much to do with personal crises as it did with antisemitism. Once Herzl devoted himself to Zionism, Penslar shows, he distinguished himself as a consummate leader—possessed of indefatigable energy, organizational ability, and electrifying charisma. Herzl became a screen onto which Jews of his era could project their deepest needs and longings.

Lebanon: The Rise and Fall of a Secular State under Siege
Farha, Mark. Lebanon: The Rise and Fall of a Secular State under Siege. Cambridge University Press, 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Why has secularism faced such challenges in the Middle East and in Lebanon in particular? In light of dominating headlines about the spread of sectarianism and the so-called death of Arab secularism, Mark Farha addresses the need for a thorough examination of the history of secular thought and practice in the region. By offering a comprehensive, systematic account of the underlying ideological, socio-economic, and political factors involved, Farha provides a new understanding of the historical roots of secularism as well as the potential causes for the continued resistance a fully deconfessionalized state faces both in Lebanon and in the region at large. Drawing on a vast corpus of primary and secondary sources to examine the varying political parties and ideologies involved, this book provides a fresh approach to the study of religion and politics in the Arab world and beyond.

  • Traces the concise lineage of the term and concept of secularism in Arab political discourse from its origins to present-day usage
  • Introduces a new framework for understanding the success or failure of the secular state in Lebanon and the wider Middle East
  • Includes Arabic sources, providing insights from a host of Arab and Lebanese secular voices
The Kizilbash-Alevis in Ottoman Anatolia: Sufism, Politics, and Community
Karakaya-Stump, Ayfer. The Kizilbash-Alevis in Ottoman Anatolia: Sufism, Politics, and Community. Edinburgh University Press, 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Explores the transformation of the Kizilbash from a radical religio-political movement to a religious order of closed communities.

  • The first comprehensive social history of the Kizilbash/Alevi communities
  • Combines conventional sources with newly discovered ones generated within the Kizilbash-Alevi milieu
  • Argues for a readjustment in focus from pre-Islamic Central Asia to the cosmopolitan Sufi milieu of the Middle East when exploring genealogies of popular Islam in Anatolia
  • Offers a critical assessment of the long-standing Köprülü paradigm in the field of religious and cultural history of Anatolia
  • Provides a new perspective on the Ottoman-Safavid conflict, and on Sunni-Shiʿi confessionalisation in the early modern period
  • Opens new avenues of research in the study of other ‘heterodox’ communities in the Islamic world

The Kizilbash were at once key players in and the foremost victims of the Ottoman-Safavid conflict that defined the early modern Middle East. Today referred to as Alevis, they constitute the second largest faith community in modern Turkey, with smaller pockets of related groups in the Balkans. Yet several aspects of their history remain little understood or explored. This first comprehensive socio-political history of the Kizilbash/Alevi communities uses a recently surfaced corpus of sources generated within their milieu. It offers fresh answers to many questions concerning their origins and evolution from a revolutionary movement to an inward-looking religious order.

The Anthropology of Islamic Law: Education, Ethics, and Legal Interpretation at Egypt's Al-Azhar
Nakissa, Aria. The Anthropology of Islamic Law: Education, Ethics, and Legal Interpretation at Egypt's Al-Azhar. Oxford University Press, 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The Anthropology of Islamic Law shows how hermeneutic theory and practice theory can be brought together to analyze cultural, legal, and religious traditions. These ideas are developed through an analysis of the Islamic legal tradition, which examines both Islamic legal doctrine and religious education. The book combines anthropology and Islamist history, using ethnography and in-depth analysis of Arabic religious texts. The book focuses on higher religious learning in contemporary Egypt, examining its intellectual, ethical, and pedagogical dimensions. Data is drawn from fieldwork inside al-Azhar University, Cairo University's Dar al-Ulum, and the network of traditional study circles associated with the al-Azhar mosque. Together these sites constitute the most important venue for the transmission of religious learning in the contemporary Muslim world. The book gives special attention to contemporary Egypt, and also provides a broader analysis relevant to Islamic legal doctrine and religious education throughout history.

The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity
Li, Darryl. The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity. Stanford University Press, 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

No contemporary figure is more demonized than the Islamist foreign fighter who wages jihad around the world. Spreading violence, disregarding national borders, and rejecting secular norms, so-called jihadists seem opposed to universalism itself. In a radical departure from conventional wisdom on the topic, The Universal Enemy argues that transnational jihadists are engaged in their own form of universalism: these fighters struggle to realize an Islamist vision directed at all of humanity, transcending racial and cultural difference.

Anthropologist and attorney Darryl Li reconceptualizes jihad as armed transnational solidarity under conditions of American empire, revisiting a pivotal moment after the Cold War when ethnic cleansing in the Balkans dominated global headlines. Muslim volunteers came from distant lands to fight in Bosnia-Herzegovina alongside their co-religionists, offering themselves as an alternative to the US-led international community. Li highlights the parallels and overlaps between transnational jihads and other universalisms such as the War on Terror, United Nations peacekeeping, and socialist Non-Alignment. Developed from more than a decade of research with former fighters in a half-dozen countries, The Universal Enemy explores the relationship between jihad and American empire to shed critical light on both.

Balikcioglu, Efe. “A Coherence of Incoherences: Graeco-Arabic Philosophy and the Fifteenth-Century Ottoman Synthesis of Philosophy with Sharia.” History and MES, 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The fifteenth-century Ottoman world was a dynamic seedbed of philosophical and theological debates and was particularly marked by numerous adjudications produced by certain celebrated scholars who synthesized different domains of knowledge—whether it was speculative theology, philosophy or Sufism. This dissertation focuses on two important adjudications written on the renowned twelfth-century theologian Abū Ḥamīd al-Ghazālī’s (d. 505/1111) Tahāfut al-falāsifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), which arbitrates between Arabic philosophy and theology.

Sultan Meḥemmed II ordered two prominent Ottoman scholars of his time, Ḫocazāde Muṣliḥ al-Dīn (d. 893/1488) and cAlā’ al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 887/1482), to prepare an adjudication on al-Ghazālī’s arguments. Sources indicate that the Sultan ultimately favored Ḫocazāde’s text. This study focuses on Ḫocazāde’s and al-Ṭūsī’s responses to the discussion of secondary causation and occasionalism in al-Ghazālī’s Discussion Seventeen on how existent things interact with each other and come into being in nature in concomitance with God’s all-encompassing power. Ḫocazāde particularly defended certain aspects of Graeco-Arabic philosophy (i.e. the Aristotelian-Avicennan philosophical tradition), whereas al-Ṭūsī favored the more orthodox Ashcarite approach, in which he denied the agency and the causal contribution of any being other than God. This examination argues that Ḫocazāde’s response to this discussion indicates why he was included among the seven select scholars who synthesized philosophy with Sharīca according to the seventeenth-century encyclopedist and savant Kātib Çelebi (d. 1068/1657). Ḫocazāde’s and al-Ṭūsī’s divergent approaches to the issues of secondary causation and occasionalism typify other formulations in the fifteenth-century Ottoman world that combined different aspects of Graeco-Arabic philosophy, speculative theology, and Sunnī creed, constituting a synthesis.

This study assays the works of Ḫocazāde and al-Ṭūsī in physics, metaphysics and speculative theology with regard to the common medrese handbooks studied during the fifteenth-century, as well as their responses to al-Ghazālī’s aforementioned work—in comparative perspective with a third approach espoused by Şemseddīn Aḥmed bin Mūsā, also known as Ḫayālī (d. 875/1470?). This study traces the formulations of Ḫocazāde, al-Ṭūsī, and Ḫayālī in common medrese handbooks of the time by documenting how their approaches were motivated by post-classical scholars such as Athīr al-Dīn al-Abharī (d. 663/1255?), Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 672/1274) and al-Sayyid al-Sharīf al-Jurjānī (d. 816/1413). This research highlights a new group of scholars emerging in the second half of the fifteenth century, hailed as “verifiers” (al-muḥaqqiqūn), who were able to synthesize various philosophical and theological formulations from differing textual traditions. Ḫocazāde epitomized this new scholar type, developing a coherent argument by incorporating elements from Graeco-Arabic philosophy and speculative theology.

Kurtic, Ekin. “Sedimented Encounters: Dams, Conservation, and Politics in Turkey.” Anthropology and MES, 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation is an ethnography of socio-natural encounters that shape, and are shaped by, the building of dam infrastructures within the Çoruh River Watershed of Turkey. Known as one of the fastest-running rivers in the world, the Çoruh River has been converted into a hydropower “resource” over the last two decades, through the construction of fifteen large hydroelectric dams. In contrast to the imagery of dam reservoirs as giant infrastructures that simply conquer and erase the natural landscape, this dissertation traces the formulization of soil sedimentation in the reservoirs as a problem to be solved by watershed forestry, which has refashioned forests as protective infrastructures of “water resources” and hydraulic infrastructures. This refashioning, I show, occurs through sedimented histories of nation-state building, developmentalism, and authoritarian populism taking shape in material infrastructures and environments. My ethnographic research among the implementers of the Çoruh River Watershed Rehabilitation Project to prevent sedimentation in dams reveals the encounters between the foresters’ and upland villagers’ conceptualizations of abandoned mountainous farmlands as landscapes of natural recovery versus desolation. I then shift my focus to the valley floor and examine the making of the Yusufeli Dam reservoir as a process narrated and experienced by town inhabitants through the trope of (self-)sacrifice for the greater national interest. In response, local state officials intend to compensate for these sacrificed zones by relocating agricultural soil and local fruit trees. These practices of what I call salvage agriculture render the sedimented and laborious histories of working the land a resource to be tapped into for the reconstruction of a new town. Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic research along the Çoruh Valley and its mountains, as well as five months of archival research in ministries and other institutions, Sedimented Encounters explores dam construction as a generative process that enacts and intertwines the making of “natural resources,” the nation-state and its developmental and conservationist endeavors, and the politics of negotiation and sacrifice. Along this process, I argue, socio-natural landscapes are produced simultaneously as places of natural recovery, (self)-sacrifice, and salvage.

Alrifai, Oula. “The Self-Flagellation of a Nation: Assad, Iran, and Regime Survival in Syria.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2019.