26th Annual Middle East History and Theory Conference (May 13-14, 2011)

We are pleased to announce our 26th Annual Conference entitled “Mutual Perceptions” this May 12–15, 2011, in Ida Noyes Hall.

Click here to see our printed program.

Hi-resolution versions of our flyers can be viewed here (letter) and here (tabloid).


Location: Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 East 59th Street / Chicago, IL 60637
Dates: May 12–15, 2011
Cost: Free
Contact: Cam Cross, mehat2011@gmail.com. Any persons with disabilities who require assistance are requested to contact us at the address above to make suitable arrangements.


About the Conference

For over twenty-five years, the Middle East History and Theory (MEHAT) Workshop, a graduate student workshop supported by the Council for Advanced Studies, has convened an annual conference in May that has steadily grown to become the most important annual event for the field at the University of Chicago. Our commitment to promoting the work of students, to keeping the conference free for all and open to the public, and to incorporating other local organizations tied to the Middle East into our program has earned this conference a reputation for friendliness, intimacy, academic rigor, openness, and social engagement that we hope to maintain this year. The conference is a leading occasion for graduate students and upcoming scholars to exchange ideas with their peers, receive focused and constructive feedback on their work, and establish relationships that will lead to fruitful collaborations in the future. These opportunities to network and collaborate are largely due to the interdisciplinary nature of the event, in which students from across the spectrum of relevant departments are encouraged to apply: history, anthropology, political science, economics, linguistics, philosophy, comparative literature, religion, and art history all fall within our rubric. The conference also covers a great temporal span, from Late Antiquity on the eve of Islam to the present day, allowing for an even greater diversity of topics to be introduced and providing more opportunities for comparative analysis.

This year, the conference was organized by Cam Lindley Cross, PhD student in Persian and Arabic literature in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC); Shayna Silverstein, PhD candidate in Ethnomusicology; Feryal Salem, PhD candidate in Islamic thought, NELC; and Mohamad Ballan, an incoming PhD student in History. Our faculty advisors were Fred Donner, Professor of Near Eastern History and Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and Orit Bashkin, Assistant Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History.


Location. The MEHAT conference will take place in Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637. For maps of Chicago, Hyde Park, and the University Campus, go to maps.uchicago.edu. The Lounge, where you picked up this program, is where receptions and coffee breaks will be held. Next door is the Library, one of our panel rooms and the site of our keynote addresses. The remainder of our rooms are upstairs; the West Lounge will be on your left, 216/217 and the East Lounge on your right.

Access. Internet access for conference participants is available through the uchicago wireless network. When connecting to the network, type the following code for both your username and your password:

Friday, May 13 meeting-tbun

Saturday, May 14 meeting-tfet

Sunday, May 15 meeting-xce9

If you want to access the Regenstein Library, you may do so at the front desk. Tell them you are participant in the MEHAT conference and they should give you a temporary pass.

Food & Entertainment. For information on places to eat and things to do while you are here, we have two resources at your disposal: our Participant Orientation and the MEHAT Guide to Chicago, which are both available at our website: cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/mehat (look under the ‘Conference’ heading). For a quick snack or coffee break, definitely check out Medici and Z & H Sandwiches on 57th Street, just north and a block east of Ida Noyes.

Transportation. For those of you who are staying at the Ramada, there is a complimentary shuttle to the U of C campus that departs from the hotel at 8:30, 1:30, and 5:30 every day. Make sure you are in the lobby at the time of departure. You can also be picked up on the shuttle’s return route; to find out where the shuttle can pick you up, call (773) 288-5800. Other useful bus routes to know about are the #172 (NE Hyde Park) and the #55 (Red Line, Midway Airport); you may find additional information either by visiting the MEHAT Conference page or by going to www.transitchicago.com.

Program Schedule

Thursday, May 12

6:45–7:00 pm An introduction to the film Crimson Gold

7:00–8:30 Screening of film

8:30–9:00 Q & A with Prof. Akrami

Prof. Jamsheed Akrami, William Paterson U

A screening of Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi, 2003)

Ida Noyes, Max Palevsky Cinema

This staunch critique of societal inequality by jailed Iranian director Jafar Panahi follows a lower-class pizza delivery driver through the streets of Tehran. On his daily route, the protagonist can’t help but be reminded of the dichotomy between rich and poor. Part of his job, serving the richer neighborhoods of Tehran, only furthers his feeling of nausea. His intermittent exposure to this life of excess ultimately drives him over the edge and he robs a jewelry store. However, when he finds himself in an unplanned hostage scenario, the result is disastrous. Special thanks to Andrew Alger and Farhad Dokhani, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, for arranging the event. 35mm

Jamsheed Akrami teaches in the Communication department at William Paterson University in New Jersey. He directed The Lost Cinema and Friendly Persuasion, two feature-length documentaries on Iranian cinema before and after the Revolution, in which he interviewed Jafar Panahi, the director of Crimson Gold, together with all the major directors of the Iranian New Wave cinema.

The film and discussion are run by Doc Films, the longest continuously running student film society in the nation. Learn more about this organization at docfilms.uchicago.edu.

Friday, May 13

8:00–9:00 am Breakfast (Lounge): Welcoming address by Prof. Franklin Lewis, U of Chicago; 9:00–10:45 Session 1; 11:00–12:45 Session 2; 1:00–2:30 pm Lunch (Lounge); 2:30–4:45 Session 3; 5:00–6:30 Keynote Address (Lounge):

Prof. Suzanne Stetkevych, Indiana U, Bloomington

Takhmis as Verbal Reliquary: Enshrinement, Inscription and Performance in Shams al-Din al-Fayyumi’s Takhmis al-Burdah

Introduction by Prof. Tahera Qutbuddin, U of Chicago

6:30–8:30 Reception and Dinner (Lounge & Library); 7:30–8:30 Performance by the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble (Library), directed by Wanees Zarour. Breakfast provided by Robust Cafe, lunch by Valley of Jordan, dinner by Jah’s Cuisine. All food is halal, and dinner is vegan.

Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych (B.A. Wellesley College, 1972, Ph.D. The University of Chicago, 1981) is professor of Arabic literature and adjunct professor of comparative literature at Indiana University, Bloomington. A specialist in classical Arabic poetry with a focus on myth, ritual and performance, she is the recipient of the Ruth N. Halls Professorship in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Indiana University, 1994-99 and the Solomon Katz Distinguished Visiting Professorship in the Humanities at Washington University, Seattle, WA, spring, 1999. Her research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Research Center in Egypt.

She is the author of Abu Tammam and the Poetics of the ‘Abbasid Age (E. J. Brill, 1991); The Mute Immortals Speak: Pre-Islamic Poetry and the Poetics of Ritual (Cornell UP, 1993); The Poetics of Islamic Legitimacy: Myth, Gender and Ceremony in the Classical Arabic Ode (Indiana UP, 2002); and The Mantle Odes: Arabic Praise Poems to the Prophet Muhammad (Indiana UP, 2010), as well as numerous scholarly articles in English and Arabic. She served as the editor of the Journal of Arabic Literature from 1997-2004 and continues to serve as the executive editor of Brill Studies in Middle Eastern Literature. She is the editor of two volumes of essays: Reorientations/Arabic and Persian Poetry (Indiana UP, 1994) and Early Arabic Poetry and Poetics (Ashgate/Variorum, 2009).

The Middle East Music Ensemble at the University of Chicago was established in 1997 and is composed of both students and community members. The ensemble is committed to the study and performance of a wide range of Middle Eastern music, with a certain emphasis on those underpinned by the theory and practice of maqam. Previous directors have included Issa Boulos, Walid al-Hajali and Martin Stokes; it is currently directed by composer, violinist and distinguished buzuq player Wanees Zarour. Go to meme.uchicago.edu for more information and concert dates.

Saturday, May 14

8:00–9:00 am Breakfast (Lounge); 9:00–10:45 Session 4; 11:00–12:45 Session 5; 1:00–2:30 pm Lunch (Lounge); 1:00–1:45 Special Event (Library): Egypt’s ‘Revolution’: A Timeline from Tahrir Square, by Thomas Plofchan, American U in Cairo; 2:30–4:45 Session 6; 5:00–6:30 Keynote Address (Lounge):

Prof. Stephen Dale, Ohio State U

Hadhrami Merchants and Malayali Muslims: the Origin of the Islamic Community of Southwest India

Introduction by Prof. Cornell Fleischer, U of Chicago

6:30–8:30 Lamb Roast Reception, sponsored by the Middle East Studies Students’ Association. Breakfast provided by Robust Cafe, lunch provided by Valley of Jordan, dinner by City Food Mart. All food is halal.

During lunch, Thomas Plofchan will present a chronological photo-essay of Egypt’s ‘Revolution’ using first-hand experiences, photos and interviews to recreate the scene and highlight important moments and turning points throughout the course of the event. Tom is an MA candidate in Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo currently focusing his studies on the role human rights activism played in Egypt’s recent uprising.

Stephen F. Dale is an Islamic historian who specializes in and teaches courses on the history of the eastern Islamic world, specifically India, Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. He took his undergraduate degree from Carleton College and both of his graduate degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, and previously taught at the Universities of Chicago and Minnesota.

Professor Dale has conducted research on one of the oldest Muslim communities in the Indian subcontinent, the Mappilas of Malabar or Kerala in southwestern India, and on Indian merchants who conducted trade in Iran, Central Asia and Russia in the early modern era. Among his publications are Indian merchants and Eurasian trade, 1600-1750 (Cambridge UP, 1994) and The Garden of the Eight Paradises: Bābur and the Culture of Empire in Central Asia, Afghanistan and India (Brill, 2004). He has recently completed a groundbreaking comparative study entitled The Muslim empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (Cambridge UP, 2010).

The Middle Eastern Studies Students’ Association (MESSA) at the University of Chicago consists of all students in the Masters Program at the Center of Middle Eastern Studies, as well as an extensive network of alumni and supporters. As part of their outreach service, they host a series of events throughout the academic year that aim to share Middle Eastern culture, language, history, and religion with the larger campus community, as well as offering workshops and service opportunities that focus on the academic and professional development of students interested in careers related to the Middle East.

Sunday, May 15

9:00–12:00 MEHAT Brunch (Lounge)

After a busy conference, we feel that a little coffee and camaraderie is in order. Please join us for a light breakfast and to chat with friends and colleagues, new and old.

Panel Sessions

Session 1 (Friday, 9:00–10:45)

Language, Gesture, and Register (Library)

Moderated by Flagg Miller, U of California, Davis

Atoor Lawandow, U of Chicago—Speech that Moves: A formal analysis of a contemporary khuṭbah; Kamala Russell, U of Chicago—Moving to a Standard: Register and gesture in Iraqi Arabic narrative discourse; Mary Elston, U of Chicago—Pronouncing Piety and Speaking Professionalism: Language ideologies at an Arabic language institute in Jordan; Özlem Ece Demir, U of Chicago—Gesture and Perceptual Context Among English- and Turkish-Speaking Children

Power and Legitimacy in the Formative Period of Islam (West Lounge)

Moderated by Mehmetcan Akpınar, U of Chicago

Elizabeth Urban, U of Chicago—Mawlā and ʿAjam: Untangling expressions of social identity in the Kitāb al-Fitan; Jennifer London, Tufts U—The Abbasid ‘Circle of Justice’: Re-reading Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s Risala fi’l-Sahaba; Sabahat Adil, U of Chicago—“I Shall Build Here, in This Happy Place”: Royalty, cities, and urbanity in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh; Catherine Bronson, U of Chicago—Ideated Eve: Sacred prototypes and moral archetypes

Contesting Citizenships: Mobility, Dislocation and Socio-Political Identities (216/217)

Moderated by Yaqub Hilal, U of Chicago

Sara Yael Hirschhorn, U of Chicago—The Rise and Fall of Garin Yamit, 1973–1982; Nell Gabiam, U of Chicago—Spatializing Identity: The changing landscape of Palestinian refugee camps; Şenay Özden, Koç U—Citizens of the Camp: Palestinian refugees and politics of opposition in Syria

Reframing Representations of Colonial Experiences (East Lounge)

Moderated by Farouk Mustafa, U of Chicago

Elizabeth Saylor, U of California, Berkeley—A Woman Writer on the Margins: ʿAfīfa Karam’s Badīʿa wa-Fuʾād; Niko Banac, UCLA—Return to Babylon: Reflections on the myth of Tammuz in several poems by Badr Shakir al-Sayyab and ʿAbd al-Wahhab al-Bayati; Veli N. Yashin, Columbia U—Al-Shidyaq’s Corpus: Or what remains of literary historiography?; Andrew Alger, U of Chicago—Journalistic Education: Iraqi socialists report on India

Session 2 (Friday, 11:00–12:45)

Mutual Perceptions in Mass Media (Library)

Organized by Yaqub Hilal and Kristen Gee Hickman, U of Chicago. Sponsored by the U of Chicago Student Government. Moderated by Ali Feser, U of Chicago; Thomas E.R. Maguire, U of Chicago—“Untold Stories”: African-American Muslim voices in the Middle Eastern mediascape; Brian Edwards, Northwestern U—Tahrir: Ends of circulation; Flagg Miller, U of California, Davis—Lessons on al-Qaʿida from the Osama Bin Laden Audiotape Collection

Revolutionary Discourses in Iran (West Lounge)

Moderated by Saeed Ghahremani, U of Chicago

G.S. Nikpour, Columbia U—Struggle and Injury: On the origins of the language of “human rights” in Iran; Mateen Rokhsefat, U of Toronto—Expectationalism and Futurity in Revolutionary Iran; Niki Akhavan, Catholic U of America—Reconstruction Campaigns: Openings and foreclosures in Iran’s revolutionary past;

Narratives and Economies of Conversion (East Lounge)

Moderated by Elizabeth Urban, U of Chicago

Jessica Mutter, U of Chicago—The Conversion Stories of ʿUmar and Hamza: A narrative analysis; Liran Yadgar, U of Chicago—Beneath the Fetter of Edom, or in Arab Chains? The conversion of Ibrāhīm ibn Sahl of Seville; Süleyman Dost, U of Chicago—From Jizya To Jāliya: Economics of conversion in early Islamic Egypt according to dated papyri; Zeynep Aydoğan, Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies/Frei U—Representations of Infidels in the Late Medieval Anatolian Frontier Narratives

Session 3 (Friday, 2:30–4:45)

Mediations of Ritual Space (Library)

Moderated by Laurie Pierce, U of Chicago

Edith Szanto, U of Toronto—Beyond the Karbala Paradigm: Affect in Syrian Twelver Shi’i mourning rituals; Sophia Rose Shafi, Iliff School of Theology, Denver U—The Function of Aineh-Kari in Imamzadeh: Mirror-work in Shi‘a pilgrimage traditions; Sahar Hosseini, UW-Milwaukee, School of Architecture and Urban Planning—Muharram procession and production of space; Shayna Silverstein, U of Chicago—“Return With Me”: Popular cultural expression and the construction of sectarian belonging in contemporary Syria

Cultural Transformations: New Means of Representation in the Late Ottoman Empire (West Lounge)

Moderated by Ekin Enacar, U of Chicago

Gizem Tongo, Bogazici U—In Search of a New Past: Representation of the Tulip Period in a late Ottoman film Binnaz (1919); Nilay Özlü, Bogazici U—(Dis)placement of the Ottoman Court: Mobility and visibility; Yan Overfield Shaw, U of Manchester, UK—Patriot’s Progress: The early work of Nazım Hikmet in late-Ottoman context

Private Property, Global Markets, and the Individual (216/217)

Moderated by Holly Shissler, U of Chicago

Dilyara Agisheva, Columbia U—An Islamic Concept of Property and its 19th Century Transformation in the Ottoman Empire Toward Creation of a Modern State; Robert Green, U of Chicago—The ABC’s of Privatization: A case study of the Al Ahram Beverages Company in Egypt; Paul Reed Baltimore, U of California, Santa Barbara—Car Culture and U.S.-Saudi Relations; Lindsey Conklin, U of Chicago—Between “the Real Love” and “the Red Line”: Youth, marriage, and personal honor in Damascus

Liminality: Classical Arabic Poetry (East Lounge)

Moderated by Suzanne Stetkevych, Indiana U, Bloomington

Alex Muller, U of Chicago—Panegyric, Reconquest and Rites of Passage: Comparing qasidas of al-Mutanabbi and Abu Tammam; Ian Atalla, U of Wisconsin, Madison—At the Margins: Meanings of liminality in the poetry and akhbār of Ṭarafa bin al-ʿAbd; Mayra Cerda-Gómez, U of Wisconsin-Madison—Can the Subject Speak in al-Mutanabbi’s Poem?; Nathaniel Miller, U of Chicago—The Rain King: Poetic control of nature in the Muʿallaqat of Imruʾ al-Qays; Rich Heffron, U of Chicago—Tribal Fakhr and the Cycle of Mourning in al-Khansā’s Qāfīyat al-Ḥāʾ


Session 4 (Saturday, 9:00–10:45)

Colonial Anxieties (Library)

Moderated by Rebecca Johnson, Northwestern U

Abdelkader Cheref, U of Connecticut—“Let’s Put Truth before Fables”: History, ‘Mediterranean Humanism,’ and language in Arabophone and Francophone Maghrebi (North African) literature; Lawrence W. McMahon, Georgetown U—Fanon on Veiling and the Colonial Fetishization of Cultural Practice; Elizabeth Nolte, U of Washington—Bitter Lemons: Lawrence Durrell and his soured Cyprus

Cosmologies and Geographies in Transcultural Perspectives (West Lounge)

Moderated by Stephen Dale, Ohio State U

Audrey Truschke, Columbia U—Islamic Translation? The treatment of religion in Persian translations of the Indian epics; Kaveh Hemmat, U of Chicago—The Chinese-Islamic Contact Zone and Vernacular Macrohistory; Rafal Stepien, Columbia U—Poetic Modes of Apophasis in Buddhist and Islamic Mystical Literature

Round Table: Current Trends and Debates in the Management of Cultural Heritage in the Modern Middle East (216/217)

Moderated by Iman Saca, St. Xavier U

Panelists: Katharyn Hanson, Daniel Mahoney, and Tanya Treptow, U of Chicago

Schools, Prisons, and Sanitation (East Lounge)

Moderated by Yaşar Tolga Cora, U of Chicago

Faisal Malik, U of Toronto—Revolutionary Schooling and the Project of Modernity in Iran; Kyle T. Evered, Michigan State U—Mapping Malaria in the Kemalist Republic; Ufuk Adak, U of Cincinnati—Inside Out: Ottoman prisoners during the age of Ottoman prison reforms; Emine Evered, Michigan State U—Syphilis and the State in Early Republican Turkey

Session 5 (Saturday, 11:00–12:45)

In the Wake of the Enlightenment (Library)

Moderated by Esra Taşdelen, U of Chicago

Roberto Mazza, Western Illinois University—For God and La Patrie: Antonin Jaussen, Dominican and French agent in the Middle East, 1914-1920; Aubry Sheiman, U of Chicago—Sabbatian Messianism and its Effects on European Jewish Endeavors Toward Modernity: Exile, rebellion, and individualism; Madeleine Elfenbein, U of Chicago—The Spirit of Şerī’at: Namık Kemal at the intersection of Islamic and French Enlightenment thought

Recasting Historical Memory through Text and Architecture (West Lounge)

Moderated by Derek Davidson, U of Chicago

Aminah Mae Safi, U of Chicago—Anachronistic History, the Great Mongol Shahnama, and the Iskandar Cycle; John Dechant, Indiana U, Bloomington—Historical Memories of Shah-i Zinda and the Islamization of Samarqand; Vefa Erginbaş, Ohio State U—The Appropriation of Islamic History in Ottoman Historical Writing, 1300-1650;

Theology and Metaphysics (216/217)

Moderated by Ahmed El Shamsy, U of Chicago

Finney Premkumar, Azusa Pacific U—Common Theoretical Themes in Jewish and Islamic Kalam that Influenced Christian Theology and Western Metaphysics; Rodrigo Adem, U of Chicago—Does God Exist? Encounters with Isma‘ili theology; Shatha Almutawa, U of Chicago—Arguments for Creation in Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ; Alexander Massad, U of Virginia—A Medieval Romance: The medieval Islamic quarrel over love in the Sunni and Sufi exegetical tradition

Defining Self, Creating Others (East Lounge)

Moderated by Melissa Bilal, U of Chicago

Mehmet Ozan Aşık, U of Cambridge—Conflictual Approaches to Nationalism in the Islamic Discourse in the Late Ottoman Empire: A case study of the journal Sebilü’r-reşad (Sırat-ı Müstakim),  1908-1924; Leila El-Khatib, Columbia U—Sharia in the West: An analysis of changing perceptions on Islamic law; Shereen Yousuf, DePaul U—In the Name of Allah or in the Name of Secularism? Representation of religious violence in the film Religulous

Session 6 (Saturday, 2:30–4:45)

Perspectives on the “Arab Spring” of 2011 (Library)

Moderated by Amina Mohamed and Noha Forster, U of Chicago

Emran El-Badawi, U of Chicago—The Evolution of Arab Enlightenment Thought and Its Prospects after the Egyptian Revolution; Silvia Marsans-Sakly, New York U—Tunisia’s Revolutionary Past, 1864 and 2011: Lessons Learned and Unlearned; Mohammed Akacem, Metropolitan State College of Denver—Why Algeria May Not Follow the Examples of Tunisia and Egypt; Dennis D. Miller, Baldwin Wallace College—Recent Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt

Ottoman Voices of the 16th Century (West Lounge)

Dedicated to the memory of Donald Quataert. Moderated by Cornell Fleischer, U of Chicago

Basil Salem, U of Chicago—The Logic of Sacral Sovereignty in the Aftermath of the Ottoman Conquest of Egypt and Syria; Fatih Kurşun, U of Chicago—Sultans and Prophets: The politics of calendar writing during the time of Bayezid II (1481–1512); Mehmet Kuru, U of Toronto—The Nature of the Relationship Between Ottoman Corsairs and the Imperial Navy in the 16th Century; Zahit Atçıl, U of Chicago—The Beginning of Imperial Court Registry in the Ottoman Empire: Muhimme Defterleri

Perceptions of Islamic Archaeology, Past and Present (216/217)

Moderated by Fred Donner, U of Chicago

Donald Whitcomb, U of Chicago—Khirbet al-Mafjar or Qasr Hisham? Changing perceptions of a Palestinian monument; Kristoffer Damgaard, U of Copenhagen—Exposed by Science, Buried by Ideology: Changing perceptions of Gerasa of the Decapolis; Anthony J. Lauricella, U of Chicago—The Rural Mosques of Muslim Sicily; Michael Jennings, U of Chicago—An archaeological assessment of past and present literary visions of Islamic Sicily; Tanya Treptow, U of Chicago—Origins or Anomaly? Ali Bahgat and the excavations of Fustat in Egypt, 1912-1924

Special thanks to: MEHAT faculty advisors Orit Bashkin and Fred Donner; our sponsors at the Council on Advanced Studies; the Franke Institute for the Humanities; the Norman Wait Harris Memorial Foundation; the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES); the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC); the University of Chicago Student Government; the Middle East Studies Students Association (MESSA); the Oriental Institute; Wanees Zarour, director of the Middle East Music Ensemble; Tom Maguire, Traci Lombré, and Alex Barna; Andrea LeJeune; Niebal Atiyeh, Leah Siskind, and the CMES volunteers for all their hard work; Andrew Alger and Farhad Dokhani for organizing the Doc Films event; the participants’ hosts; and the panel moderators. See you next year!

Other Events

The MEHAT conference is typically accompanied by a number of fun events. We are pleased to announce that the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble will once again be performing for us the evening of May 13, and that the Middle Eastern Studies Students’ Association will sponsor and organize a lamb roast banquet to celebrate the end of the conference on May 14.

About the Conference

For over twenty-five years, the Middle East History and Theory (MEHAT) Workshop, supported by the Council for Advanced Studies, has convened an annual conference in May, organized and run by graduate students, which has steadily grown to become the most important annual event for the field at the University of Chicago, attracting participants from across North America, Europe, the Middle East, and South/South-East Asia. Our commitment to promoting the work of students, to keeping the conference free for all and open to the public, and to incorporating other local organizations tied to the Middle East into our program has earned this conference the unique reputation for friendliness, intimacy, academic rigor, openness, and engagement with our community that attracts this large and international body of participants. The conference is a leading occasion for graduate students and upcoming scholars to exchange ideas with their peers, receive focused and constructive feedback on their work, and establish relationships that will lead to fruitful collaborations in the future. These opportunities to network and collaborate are largely due to the interdisciplinary nature of the event, in which students from across the spectrum of relevant departments are encouraged to apply: history, anthropology, political science, economics, linguistics, philosophy, comparative literature, religion, and art history all fall within our rubric. The conference also covers a great temporal span, from Late Antiquity on the eve of Islam to the present day, allowing for an even greater diversity of topics to be introduced and providing more opportunities for comparative analysis.

MEHAT 2011: Mutual Perceptions

It is common, although not obligatory, to establish a theme for the MEHAT conference. The intention of the theme is not to limit or restrict the content of accepted papers, but rather to generate a conversation, a common thread of ideas and inquiries, around which the specific papers of the conference can revolve. Our theme for this year is “Mutual Perceptions,” which we hope will emphasize the openness and heterogeneity of the social landscape we call the Islamic(-ate) world. Translation—of texts, people, ideas, ritual, performance, and all its other aspects—will be at the forefront: how do concepts evolve as they are brought into contact with new populations, or move through time? How do key texts become part of the canonical body that help define communities? How do diasporas and minorities maintain their coherence across sea and land trading routes? What does new art, music, and literature do when introduced to and merged with pre-existing forms? Ultimately, how do all these questions impact our understanding of our own discipline of “the Middle East” as a area that has certain properties and characteristics that distinguish it from other cultures and locales? Through these questions, we hope to encourage as much interdisciplinary crossover as possible, bringing in scholars who work on South Asia, Russia, China, the Balkans, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, and Western Europe in addition to the typical regions that we study as the Middle East. In this way, we hope to reach beyond the traditional borders of the Middle East as an area studies discipline and stimulate new insights and perspectives in how to approach the region as a network of micro and macro relationships that bind the area with the rest of the globe.

MEHAT 2011 Coordinators

Cam Lindley-Cross
Feryal Salem
Shayna Silverstein
Mohamad Ballan