“Our field is a cautionary tale on the dangers of linking independent academic research to military intelligence.” — Sarah Kendzior


Sarah Kendzior
Sarah Kendzior

Yesterday I gave the keynote speech at the 22nd conference of the  Association of Central Eurasian Students at Indiana University. I am an alumnus of the Central Eurasian Studies (CEUS) program at IU so it was exciting to get to talk to the next generation, even though I may have traumatized them with this talk. Below, the text of my speech:

As you may already know, I am a CEUS alumnus, and I look back at my time here mostly with appreciation.  While I was here, of course, I complained about CEUS with everyone else, even coining the phrase “afCEUSki” to describe it – that’s a joke for the Uzbek specialists in the room — but the truth is there is tremendous value in area studies programs, particularly programs that emphasize languages and history in the way CEUS does.

You never know how much you appreciate CEUS until you’re out in the real world answering questions like “Where is Central Asia?” with “It’s in the center of Asia”. So it’s great to be talking with young scholars who know beyond the basics and are interested in the future of the field. Continue reading

View of Levent from the Bosphorous, Summer 2012. (photo courtesy Sibel Bozdoğan) Levent is one of the main business districts of Istanbul, located on the European side of the city.
View of Levent from the Bosphorous, Summer 2012. (photo courtesy Sibel Bozdoğan) Levent is one of the main business districts of Istanbul, located on the European side of the city.

“Istanbul is the economic, cultural, and historical heart of Turkey, and the only city in the world located on two continents. Between 1453 and 1922, Istanbul was the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, which extended into southeastern Europe, the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. Until 1924, it was the seat of the last Islamic caliphate. Due to its extensive history, Istanbul has been called a “palimpsest city,”bearing the remains of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. During an era of Middle Eastern nationalism, Istanbul became a peripheral urban center, and only regained its position as a world city at the turn of the twenty-first century. Today, it is one of the top-ten tourist destinations in the world. In 2010, Istanbul was named European Capital of Culture.  In 2013, there were violent anti-government protests in the city, which targeted massive urban renewal projects and the conservative, neoliberal order embraced by the ruling AK Party.” — Rethinking Global Cities, Duke University, 2014

“Money, capital, labor has no religion, nation, race or country. Money is like mercury. It flows wherever it finds a suitable channel, a secure ground for itself. If you can prepare this ground, it will come to you; otherwise it will flow somewhere else. We are determined to prepare this ground.” — Prime Minister Erdoğan, speech at G-20 summit, 2009


UnknownIn the past decade, Istanbul has undergone an immense political and economic transformation, making it “an ideal site to study the contradictory forces that come together to produce urban spaces,” says Duke University Turkish Studies professor Erdag Göknar.

Göknar is principal investigator of a year-long Rethinking Global Cities project at Duke, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, that is investigating the complex, hybrid and contested cultural and human geographies of the following world cities — Bangkok, Beijing, Bogota, Cairo, Cape Town, Dubai, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Mumbai, Tokyo and Vienna — in the context of national and global politics. (The centerpiece of this project is a conference this week, with the Febuary 5 keynote on “Virtual Uprisings: Tahrir Square” by Nezar Al Sayyad, Professor of Architecture, Design, Urban Planning & Urban History, UC Berkeley.)

As part of this project, Göknar invited Sibel Bozdoğan — a lecturer in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, and Professor and Chair of the Department of Architecture at Kadir Has University in Turkey — to speak at Duke this past December.

Bozdoğan’s research, at the intersection of Turkish politics and urban renewal, examines the ways in which ideology shapes and is shaped by urban form and analyzes the tensions between state power and city space. Her work spans cross-cultural histories of modern architecture and urbanism in Europe, America, the Mediterranean and the Middle East with a specialization on Turkey.

On December 4 she addressed a Duke lecture hall packed with architecture, design, Turkish studies and Middle East scholars on the timely, if controversial, topic — “Urban Development as Politics of Performance: Istanbul’s Transformation under the AKP.”

Continue reading


On Wednesday, January 13, nearly a week after the attacks in Paris (at the Charlie Hebdo magazine and at the Kosher market) Oxford University historian Martin Conway was at Duke for a long-scheduled talk on “The End of European Integration” sponsored by Duke University’s Center for European studies.

“A certain Europe, it is now clear, ended in the 2000s,” read the talk description. “Even if the nature of the new form of Europe its frontiers, politics, economic model and political structures remains unclear, the Europe which gathered momentum from the 1950s onwards and which achieved twenty years of almost unchallenged hegemony from the 1980s to the 2000s has entered a period of seemingly remorseless decline, characterized by volatile populist politics, institutional immobilism, and the emergence of nascent alternative alliances.”

Professor Conway discussed the geographic, economic, and political reasons for Europe’s crisis, made some brief remarks on the Paris attacks of the previous week, and entertained nearly a half-hour of questions, including a question on the outlook for Muslim communities in Europe, particularly in France and Germany. In this clip he discusses changes in European identity, President Obama’s absence at French demonstrations the Sunday before, secular liberalism in France, and the “otherness” of Islam in Europe.

This lecture was presented as part of the John Hope Franklin Center’s Wednesdays at the Center Series. 

The full lecture is available in iTunes U HERE 

ISLAMiCommentary is a public scholarship forum that engages scholars, journalists, policymakers, advocates and artists in their fields of expertise. It is a key component of the Transcultural Islam Project; an initiative managed out of the Duke Islamic Studies Center in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations (UNC-Chapel Hill). This article was made possible (in part) by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author(s).

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Between Psychoanalysis as Practice and as Social Theory

by TAMAR SHIRINIAN for ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 29, 2014:

 “Is psychoanalysis possible in the Islamic Republic of Iran?” This is the question that Gohar Homayounpour poses to herself, and to us, at the beginning of this memoir of displacement, nostalgia, love, and pain. Twenty years after leaving her country, Homayounpour, an Iranian, Western-trained psychoanalyst, returns to Tehran to establish a psychoanalytic practice. When an American colleague exclaims, “I do not think that Iranians can free-associate!” Homayounpour responds that in her opinion Iranians do nothing but. Iranian culture, she says, revolves around stories. Why wouldn’t Freud’s methods work, given Iranians’ need to talk? — Excerpt from the Overview of Gohar Homayounpour’s book Doing Psychoanalysis in Iran (MIT Press, 2012)

Tamar Shirinian
Tamar Shirinian

While many in the West think of Iran as an impossible site for the practice of psychoanalysis — where the patient is assumed to be far too repressed to be able to talk freely — Iranian psychoanalyst Gohar Homayounpour says in fact there are many ways in which the context of Iran is precisely the perfect place for a practice.

Homayounpour was invited to Duke University last month by the Women’s Studies department to participate in a series of talks on her work. One talk — “Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran” — covered the clinical aspects of psychoanalysis in a doctor-patient setting and how the social and political context, including during the 2009 Iran elections protests, is of great importance.

Another covered the “Geographies of Psychoanalysis,” which shed light on the importance of an attunement to geographies outside of the West (the focus of the International Psychoanalysis Association until very recently) and its implications for psychoanalysis.

For her third talk — “Psychoanalysis and the Veil” — she was joined by Ranjana Khanna (Director of Women’s Studies at Duke and professor of English, women’s studies, and literature) and Duke literature professor Negar Mottahedeh.

I had the privilege to attend two of the three talks, “Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran” and “Geographies of Psychoanalysis.” In this essay, I would like to explore the themes of these talks and implications for my own research. Continue reading

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Islamic Studies Professor Carl W. Ernst has shared the beginning of the draft with TIRN. The entire draft can be accessed on his website

by CARL W. ERNST (draft prepared for Duke University Arabic Halaqa on December 8, 2014): 

Carl Ernst
Carl Ernst

(EXCERPT) The early Sufi movement arose in the society of the `Abbasid Empire, an environment that by the late ninth century was saturated with the culture of Arabic literature. Poetry had been enormously important for the pre-Islamic Arabs, and it continued to serve as a powerful means of communication both in the heartland of the caliphate and in the far-flung provinces from North Africa to central Asia. It is not surprising to find that the mystics resorted to the dense literary medium of poetry to convey both deep emotion and abstract insight. Poetry became a natural ancillary to the exposition of Sufi discourse on the soul and its experiences, and it was pervasive in Sufi discourse. As Sarraj related,

I heard al-Wajihi say, I heard al-Tayalasi al-Razi say, I visited Israfil, the teacher of Dhu al-Nun (may God have mercy on them both), and he was sitting and drumming his fingers on the ground, chanting something to himself. When he saw me, he said, “Can you recite something beautiful?” I said, “No.” He replied, “You have no heart.”[1]

Arabic verses are sprinkled liberally in the collections of Sufi teachings that emerged in the late 10th-century works of Sulami, Sarraj, Kalabadhi, Khargushi, and Sirjani. The Baghdadian Sufi Ja`far al-Khuldi claimed that he knew by heart the collected poems of 130 Sufis.[2] Many of the verses quoted in early Sufi writings, when they are not anonymous, are credited to the famous pioneers of Baghdadian Sufism, including Junayd, Abu `Ali al-Rudhbari, Sari al-Saqati, Abu al-Husayn al-Nuri, Sumnun al-Muhibb, and others. Surprisingly, this body of Arabic mystical poetry has received very little scholarly attention.

One of the problems in the study of early Sufi poetry is related to a widespread tendency to identify this mystical tradition primarily with its Iranian and Indian examples, in contrast to the supposedly inferior spiritual and intellectual capacities of the Semitic races, particularly the Arabs. This attitude was an example of the larger prejudice against Arabic poetry, which many Orientalist scholars considered to be extravagant and lacking in literary merit.[3] In part this opinion could be charitably interpreted as a result of the widespread recent popularity of the Persian poetry Rumi, which tends to eclipse other figures in Sufi tradition. Continue reading