Northwestern Events Calendar


MENA Graduate Student Colloquium

When: Monday, December 2, 2019
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM CT

Where: Kresge Hall, Kresge 4-531 (MENA Seminar Room), 1880 Campus Drive , Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Danny Postel  

Group: Middle East and North African Studies

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Presentations by MENA doctoral students

Open only to Northwestern graduate students and faculty


Hazal Ozdemir (Department of History)

“They Migrate by Renouncing Their Ottoman Subjecthood and Vowing Never to Return”: Policing Armenian Migration to the United States (1885-1908)

Armenians constituted one of many communities which were participating in the trans-Atlantic labor migration of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While Armenian return migration has not caught the attention of scholars before, my research in the Ottoman State Archives has revealed that there was a considerable number of Armenians who tried to come back and their return caused a severe problem for the Ottoman state. The government of Abdülhamid II (1876-1909) understood that these migrations were intended to be circular, and this would help explain why it especially feared Armenian repatriates. While focusing on the state restrictions on Armenian overseas mobility between 1885-1908, firstly, my project demonstrates why the government targeted Armenians as an ethnoreligious community in the Ottoman Empire. According to the regime of Abdülhamid II (1876-1909), all Armenians were revolting to get the attention of the European states and force the Ottoman government to give autonomy to Armenia. The fear of a foreign intervention labeled Armenians as a treacherous community and led the Hamidian officialdom to prevent their return from the United States as much as possible. The second aim is to show how Armenian mobility, especially return, was restricted. By revealing how Armenians were singled out as an ethnoreligious community in the eyes of the Hamidian regime, I argue that the Ottoman attitudes towards Armenian migration and return provide a lens to comprehend the population management in the late nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire. Denaturalization of targeted populations and methods devised to control their movements such as photo registers in the Hamidian era, however, has not been previously studied, and this is precisely where my contribution is.


Şeyma Kabaoğlu (Department of Anthropology)

The Everyday Life of Islamic Banking: A Mid-Level Approach

This presentation juxtaposes the discussions around Islamic authenticity of participation banking practices among Islamic finance experts and the mid-level employees in Istanbul, Turkey. First, I argue that the everyday conversations of what makes a loan Islamic are not confined to the experts discussions on the nature of financial instruments and their abstract models. The mid- level bank employees do not only have different answers to the question of authenticity of certain financial contracts, but also ask different questions to assess the Islamic-ness of banking practices. Secondly, I suggest that the discrepancy between Islamic financial theory and practice does not imply the irrelevance of Islamic law in the everyday life of Islamic banking. I highlight the everyday efforts by employees to maintain a space for non-codified, flexible, case-specific Islamic law to function. Lastly, I demonstrate the hesitations among experts and employees to use the term “Islam” to refer to participation banking activities. I suggest that the reluctance to call a financial practice “Islamic” does not necessarily challenge its Islamic permissibility, hence does not imply an inherent hypocrisy in the participation banking industry.


Hamed Yousefi (Department of Art History)

Permanent Universalism: The Revolutionary Cinema of Morteza Avini

In the years immediately following the revolution, Morteza Avini (1941-1993) travelled to various parts of Iran, producing documentaries about ethnic uprisings, class struggles, infighting among revolutionary forces, and economic and social destitution in rural areas. His films unabashedly represented the standpoint of the Khomeinist faction at a time when the majority of Iranian intelligentsia found themselves alienated from crystalizing centers of power. However, Avini was not a stereotypical Khomeini supporter. He understood his work in critical continuation to the cosmopolitan discourse of modern art which had expanded in Iran during the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike other revolutionary filmmakers such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Avini was not a political activist who turned to the arts in order to disseminate his ideas, but was rather an artist and intellectual whose core beliefs were unsettled by the revolution.

The central question that Avini inherited from Iranian modernism concerned the challenge of reconciling the modern sense of alienation with the desire for an examined, authentic life. In the 1970s, as a student of architecture at the University of Tehran, Avini engaged with the discourse of “Eastern spirituality” that marked intellectual debates. Then, with the revolution, he took a strong critical stance against his own early formation and argued that the Iranian intelligentsia in general and the discourse of Eastern spirituality in particular reduced the question of authentic life to a theoretical issue, whereas the Islamic Revolution offered a practical path for those who had the courage to live an examined life. To call Avini an avant-garde artist is to acknowledge qualities in his work that German theorist Peter Burger attributes to the early European avant-garde: an immanent critique of modernism by artists who sought the sublimation of high art in the practice of everyday life. For Avini, the avant-garde sublimation of art into life meant to submit his art entirely to the lives of ordinary people who followed the spiritual leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Through a close reading of Avini's films as well as his voluminous theoretical writings, I argue that Avini's understanding of the 1979 Revolution originates from his engagement with the cosmopolitan discourse of modernism in pre-revolutionary Iran and, as such, reflects the continuation of a particular globality that the Pahlavi government promulgated in the country. Moreover, I analyze Avini's own theorization of the globality of the Iranian Revolution in relationship to his unification of artistic avant-gardism with political Islam.

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