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Interviews with Scholars of the Middle East about their New Books
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New Books in Middle Eastern Studies New Books Network

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Interviews with Scholars of the Middle East about their New Books
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    Anna Bigelow et al., "Islam Through Objects" (Bloomsbury, 2021)

    Anna Bigelow et al., "Islam Through Objects" (Bloomsbury, 2021)

    Islam through Objects (Bloomsbury, 2021) represents the state of the field of Islamic material cultural studies. With contributions from scholars of religion, anthropologists, art historians, folklorists, historians, and other disciplines, Anna Bigelow, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University, brings together a wide range of perspectives on Islamic materiality to debunk myths of Islamic aversion to material aspects of religion. Each chapter focuses on a single object in daily use by Muslims, including prayer beads, coins, amulets, a cistern well, clothing, jewelry, and bodily and domestic adornments, to consider both generic and particular aspects of the object in question. Framed by an introduction that assesses the various approaches to Islamic material culture in recent scholarship, Islam through Objects provides a template for the study of religion and material culture, which engages current theory, subtle and nuanced narratives, and the creative and imaginal capacities of Muslims through history. In our conversation we discussed key subjects in material religion scholarship, theological foundations for Islamic notions of materiality, the uses of visual images as historical vantage points, the role of objects as a means for marking and making identity, the life of material items in ritual and social action, and the future study of Islam through objects.
    Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at kpeterse@odu.edu.
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    • 57 Min.
    Cynthia J. Becker, "Blackness in Morocco: Gnawa Identity Through Music and Visual Culture" (U Minnesota Press, 2020)

    Cynthia J. Becker, "Blackness in Morocco: Gnawa Identity Through Music and Visual Culture" (U Minnesota Press, 2020)

    For more than thirteen centuries, caravans transported millions of enslaved people from Africa south of the Sahara into what is now the Kingdom of Morocco. Today there are no museums, plaques, or monuments that recognize this history of enslavement, but enslaved people and their descendants created the Gnawa identity that preserves this largely suppressed heritage. This pioneering book describes how Gnawa emerged as a practice associated with Blackness and enslavement by reviewing visual representation and musical traditions from the late nineteenth century to the present.
    Cynthia J. Becker addresses the historical consciousness of subaltern groups and how they give Blackness material form through modes of dress, visual art, religious ceremonies, and musical instruments in performance. She examines what it means to self-identify as Black in Morocco (a country typically associated with the Middle East and the Arab world), especially during this time of increased contemporary African migration, which has made Blackness even more visible. Her case studies draw on archival material and on her extended research in the city of Essaouira, site of the wildly popular Gnawa World Music Festival. Becker shows that Gnawa spirit possession ceremonies express the marginalization associated with enslavement and allow these unique communities to move toward healing, even as the mass-marketing of Gnawa music has resulted in some Gnawa practitioners engaging Blackness to claim legitimacy and spiritual power.
    This book challenges the framing of Africa’s cultural history into “sub-Saharan” versus “North African” or Islamic versus non-Islamic categories. Blackness in Morocco: Gnawa Identity Through Music and Visual Culture (U Minnesota Press, 2020) complicates how we think about the institution of slavery and its impact on North African religious and social institutions, and readers will better understand and appreciate the role of Africans in shaping global forces, including religious institutions such as Islam.
    This interview is part of an NBN special series on “Mobilities and Methods.”
    Cynthia J. Becker is associate professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Boston University. She is the author of Amazigh Arts in Morocco: Women Shaping Berber Identity. Her writing has been published in many journals and edited volumes, including Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa.
    Alize Arıcan is an incoming Postdoctoral Fellow at Rutgers University's Center for Cultural Analysis. She is an anthropologist whose research focuses on urban renewal, futurity, care, and migration in Istanbul, Turkey. Her work has been featured in Current Anthropology, City & Society, Radical Housing Journal, and entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography.
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    • 51 Min.
    David Arnovitz, "Samuel: The Making of the Monarchy, Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel" (Koren Publishers, 2021)

    David Arnovitz, "Samuel: The Making of the Monarchy, Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel" (Koren Publishers, 2021)

    Samuel: The Making of the Monarchy, a volume of The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel with Koren Publishers, offers an innovative and refreshing approach to the Hebrew Bible. By fusing extraordinary findings by modern scholars on the ancient Near East with the original Hebrew text and a brand new English translation, The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel clarifies and explains the Biblical narrative, laws, events, and prophecies in context with the milieu in which it took place.
    The Koren Tanakh features stunning visuals of ancient civilizations including artifacts, archeological excavations, inscriptions, and maps, along with brief articles on ancient Near Eastern culture, geography, biblical botany, language, and more.
    Join us as we talk to David Arnovitz, Editor in Chief of the Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel.
    Michael Morales is Professor of Biblical Studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the author of The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus (Peeters, 2012), Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of Leviticus(IVP Academic, 2015), and Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption(IVP Academic, 2020). He can be reached at mmorales@gpts.edu
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    • 18 Min.
    Ayse Parla, "Precarious Hope: Migration and the Limits of Belonging in Turkey" (Stanford UP, 2019)

    Ayse Parla, "Precarious Hope: Migration and the Limits of Belonging in Turkey" (Stanford UP, 2019)

    There are more than 700,000 Bulgaristanlı migrants residing in Turkey. Immigrants from Bulgaria who are ethnically Turkish, they assume certain privileges because of these ethnic ties, yet access to citizenship remains dependent on the whims of those in power. Through vivid accounts of encounters with the police and state bureaucracy, of nostalgic memories of home and aspirations for a more secure life in Turkey, Precarious Hope: Migration and the Limits of Belonging in Turkey (Stanford UP, 2019) explores the tensions between ethnic privilege and economic vulnerability and rethinks the limits of migrant belonging among those for whom it is intimated and promised—but never guaranteed.
    In contrast to the typical focus on despair, Ayşe Parla studies the hopefulness of migrants. Turkish immigration policies have worked in lockstep with national aspirations for ethnic, religious, and ideological conformity, offering Bulgaristanlı migrants an advantage over others. Their hope is the product of privilege and an act of dignity and perseverance. It is also a tool of the state, reproducing a migration regime that categorizes some as desirable and others as foreign and dispensable. Through the experiences of the Bulgaristanlı, Precarious Hope speaks to the global predicament in which increasing numbers of people are forced to manage both cultivation of hope and relentless anxiety within structures of inequality.
    This interview is part of an NBN special series on Mobilities and Methods.
    Ayşe Parla is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Boston University.
    Alize Arıcan is an incoming Postdoctoral Fellow at Rutgers University's Center for Cultural Analysis. Her research focuses on urban renewal, futurity, care, and migration in Turkey. Her work has been featured in Current Anthropology, City & Society, Radical Housing Journal, and entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography.
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    • 1 Std. 1 Min.
    Katherine Pangonis, "Queens of Jerusalem: The Women Who Dared to Rule" (Hachette, 2021)

    Katherine Pangonis, "Queens of Jerusalem: The Women Who Dared to Rule" (Hachette, 2021)

    Any study of the Crusades — the religious wars waged by Latin Catholics to recapture the Holy Land — is primarily an exploration of men and their military deeds, with scant consideration of women, save perhaps the redoubtable Eleanor of Aquitaine who accompanied her husband, King Louis VII of France, on the Second Crusade. But the history of the Christian Crusader states established after the success of the First Crusade is a different matter. From 1099 to 1187, the four polities, known collectively as “Outremer” or “the lands beyond the sea” — the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Antioch, and the Counties of Tripoli and Edessa — were more often ruled by queens, princesses, and countesses in their own right.
    The captivating story of these women is the subject of Queens of Jerusalem: The Women Who Dared to Rule (Hachette, 2021) by Katherine Pangonis. In taking up the story of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem, her rebel sister, Princess Alice of Antioch, and their descendants, Pangonis set herself the challenging task of peeling back the layers of recorded history — primarily chronicles written by men — to create a realistic portrait of these vital, ambitious, and dynamic women, a task that requires the historian to wear many hats: archivist, detective, archeologist, and psychologist.
    Pangonis is well up to the task; she is an outstanding narrative historian, and in addition to scrutinizing all extant sources on Outremer, Pangonis also took the time to walk in the footsteps of her protagonists, and this allows readers of “Queens of Jerusalem” to experience medieval Outremer in vibrant detail. The queens, princesses, and countesses of Outremer were keen builders of edifices, which still form parts of the skylines of of the region: the Crusader castles, the Convent of Bethany, and the all-important Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In “Queens of Jerusalem” this topography leaps off the page in very satisfying detail.
    Pangonis’s writing is elegant and evocative, always informative but never pedantic. Her ability to marshall her sprawling cast of characters, many of whom confusingly share the same names, is impressive, with each person emerging as a separate and vivid personality with distinct character traits. Pangonis argues that like their European cousins, none of the women of Outremer was ever destined to rule, but that the inherent violence of Outremer rendered the mortality rate for men such that women were often the only potential heirs. Some women, such as Queen Melisende of Jerusalem, were well prepared for their task from childhood, while others, like her sister Alice, struggled to establish and maintain power. Pangonis also considers the fates of several Byzantine princesses who married into the Crusader states, such as the colorful Theodora Komnene, foreigners forced to weather their own challenges in navigating power in Outremer.
    Jennifer Eremeeva is an American expatriate writer who writes about travel, culture, cuisine and culinary history, Russian history, and Royal History, with bylines in Reuters, Fodor's, USTOA, LitHub, The Moscow Times, and Russian Life.
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    • 55 Min.
    Caroline Seymour-Jorn, "Creating Spaces of Hope: Young Artists and the New Imagination in Egypt" (AU in Cairo Press, 2021)

    Caroline Seymour-Jorn, "Creating Spaces of Hope: Young Artists and the New Imagination in Egypt" (AU in Cairo Press, 2021)

    It is now just over a decade since protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square started Egypt's chapter in the events of the Arab Spring. Much has been made in western criticism of art and culture's role in the revolution, but the everyday cultural production of studio artists, graffiti artists, musicians, and writers since has attracted less attention. How have artists responded personally and artistically to the political transformation ? What has social role of art been in these periods of transition and uncertainty? What are the aesthetic shifts and stylistic transformations present in the contemporary Egyptian art world?
    Caroline Seymour-Jorn speaks with Pierre d'Alancaisez about her many years of research in Cairo that goes beyond the current understandings of creative work solely as a form of resistance or political commentary, providing a more nuanced analysis of creative production in the Arab world. Caroline suggests that young artists like Hany Rashed or The Choir Project have turned their creative focus increasingly inward, to examine issues having to do with personal relationships, belonging and inclusion, and maintaining hope in harsh social, political and economic circumstances.
    Caroline Seymour-Jorn is professor of comparative literature and Arabic translation at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the author of Cultural Criticism in Egyptian Women's Writing, 2011.
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    • 1 Std. 1 Min.

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