In January 2014, Mr Muhammad Alagil of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, endowed a Chair in Arabia-Asia Studies at the Asia Research Institute, NUS. In June 2014, the first Arabia-Asia conference held under the auspices of the Muhammad Alagil Distinguished Chair in Arabia-Asia Studies at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore(NUS), was convened. Engseng Ho, the Muhammad Alagil Distinguished Visiting Professor as of January 2014 (and Professor of Cultural Anthropology and History at Duke University) was the convener.  Mr Alagil and President Tan Chorh Chuan of NUS participating in the opening panel, along with ARI Director Prasenjit Duara and Alagil Chair Engseng Ho.


Engseng Ho
Engseng Ho

Prof Tan stressed the importance of Arabia-Asia relations, noting the existence of a new generation of scholars working in the field, and among them welcomed home NUS alumni who had continued their work in leading universities abroad. In doing so, he also alerted them to the founding of a new PhD programme in comparative and connective Asian studies at NUS.

Prof Duara emphasised the thematic and strategic importance of Asian connections to ARI and to Singapore, and welcomed the addition of Arabia-Asia to this nexus.

Mr Alagil observed that while relations between the Middle East and the West have been full of conflicts and wars, relations between Arabia and Asia were much more peaceful and historically deep; and they were resurgent today. Yet the former has been widely studied, while the latter neglected. Mr Alagil explained that the naming of the chair—Arabia-Asia— was meant to make clear this contrast. Here was a historic opportunity for scholars to study Arabia-Asia, as has been done for relations between the Middle East and the West.

Indeed, Arabia-Asia relations cover a broad canvas, encompassing trade, diplomacy, labour, religion, language, literature, kinship and culture. This breadth of engagement was represented in the audience, who filled the ARI seminar room to capacity, and included prominent leaders in diplomacy, government, finance and the Singapore Arab community. The theme of the conference, that Arabia-Asia relations were like Slender But Supple Threads, not always thick or visible, but nevertheless strong and enduring, resonated with the audience. At the opening panel, a number of them were moved to recount their family histories, with ancestors coming from elsewhere, intermarrying with various ethnic groups, and cultivating businesses and friendships with one another. While relations between Arabia and Asia have existed continuously for centuries, modern scholarship has been divided by countries and regions, rendering those relations opaque. The conference was designed to overcome these divides by bringing together scholars working along a number of Arabia-Asia axes: to compare notes, complement each other, make mutual discoveries, and identify common areas of interest and ignorance. In that respect, the meeting was stimulating, and sparked lively discussions that we hope will bear fruit in developing research agendas.

Panelists came from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Korea and the USA.

Panels were focused on topics such as Arabia-Asia trading ports, Arabians in Asian cities, intellectual and organisational journeys, publishing, pilgrimage, and diaspora-state relations. It was striking that in many of these arenas of Arabia-Asia interaction, contemporary developments resonated strongly with historical precedents. The opening paper by Ho Wai-Yip introduced a maximal spatial and temporal stage, linking two cities at the limits of Arabia-Asia—Aden and Canton—in the thirteenth century and the present.

Arabian trading diasporas, which had been active in Rasulid and Sung times, were again active in Canton today, even as China has been rebuilding roads and ports in Yemen. While Aden’s traffic slowed during the socialist period, Dubai took up its role in Indian Ocean trade, developing primacy in global logistics, as did its counterpart Singapore, as discussed by Engseng Ho, while profiting from and benefiting nearer regions such as Kerala in India, in an intertwined traffic of gold and labour, as demonstrated by Nisha Mathew.



Engseng Ho is Muhammad Alagil Distinguished Visiting Professor, ARI, NUS and Professor of Anthropology and History, Duke University, and core faculty with the Duke Islamic Studies Center. His research covers a range of issues, including long-distance and long-term cross-Asian mobility, maritime connections, Islam in Asia and ethnic diasporas. His research cross-cuts traditional regional studies and deals with large topics in current social science. Originally from Malaysia, Ho delved into interdisciplinary scholarship when he went in search of a more comprehensive narrative of Muslim societies to better understand his own.


by ALI ALTAF MIAN for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on NOVEMBER 6, 2014:

Ali Mian
Ali Mian

Is Sigmund Freud a stranger to the robust intellectual scenes of the modern Middle East? Is there mutual ignorance between Islam and psychoanalysis? Do only secular Arab thinkers invoke Western discourses of suspicion, such as psychoanalysis?

In a forthcoming monograph, provisionally titled The Arabic Freud, UC-Davis historian Omnia El Shakry casts much-needed light on modern intellectual collaborations and interconnected webs of knowledge production between Egypt and Europe, especially with reference to psychoanalysis. She investigates the travels of psychoanalysis in post-WWII Egypt, primarily through an exploration of social scientific, religious, and legal writings about self and subjectivity. This important work will illuminate how Arab scholars in the 1940s and 1950s understood the emerging disciplinary space of psychology as a science of selfhood and the soul. The disciplines of psychology and psychoanalysis in this context were therefore not reduced to empirical studies of mental processes. In fact, mental health professionals and psychologists, but also Islamic thinkers and legal practitioners, creatively blended European discourses of self and psyche with local Islamicate knowledge traditions.

Omnia El Shakry
Omnia El Shakry

In a recent talk at Duke University, El Shakry discussed the emergence of the psychosexual subject in postwar Egyptian discourses, as evident in the Journal of Psychology (Majallat ‘ilm al-nafs). This journal was founded in 1945 by the Egyptian psychology professor Yusuf Murad and psychoanalyst Mustafa Ziywar. The postwar period witnessed an innovative discussion about human sexuality, shifting from the fin-de-siècle focus on biomedicine and psychiatric nosology to psychology, psychoanalysis, and Islamic mystical and ethical traditions. These intellectual overlaps between Europe and Egypt refute the claim that psychoanalysis and Islam are incompatible.

El Shakry also argued that in contradistinction to the crisis of masculinity in Egypt between WWI and WWII (as discussed by Middle Eastern studies specialists such as Hanan Kholoussy, Wilson Jacob, and Liat Kozma), postwar discourses increasingly started to analyze the female body and psyche. In this way, contributors to the Journal of Psychology asked fresh questions, extending the limits of the thinkable in Egyptian academic circles.

Gender and sexual formation were taken to be compelling questions, addressed by various authors who contributed to the Journal of Psychology. On the pages of this journal, Egyptian readership encountered theories that explained how heterosexual masculinity and femininity were nearly impossible norms of psychosexual development. At places, readers were even introduced to the desirability of homosocial romantic attachments as the quintessential model for ideal heterosexuality. Continue reading


Amanullah De Sondy
Amanullah De Sondy

[Cross-posted from New Books in Religion] What gets to count as Islam? In the current political climate this question is being repeated in a variety of contexts. The tapestry of various Islamic identities is revealed in an investigation of gender. In The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities (Bloomsbury, 2014), Amanullah De Sondy, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Miami, tackles the construction of Muslim manhood in several interpretive traditions. These forms of masculinity – both ideal & reviled – are taken across a wide spectrum of thought, from Islamist perspectives to those challenging patriarchy. Many of the discussions revolve around similar themes, most importantly family, marriage, sexuality, and veiling. Other constructions of masculinity challenge heteronormativity within Muslim identities. The Qur’an is central to many of the interpretations discussed in the book but De Sondy demonstrates that here too we are not presented with a singular and clear ideal of masculinity. Qur’anic descriptions of male prophets, including Adam, Joseph, Muhammad, and Jesus, each complicate a simple narrative of Muslim manhood. In our conversation we discuss hermeneutical strategies, feminists approaches to the Qur’an, notions of love and sexual boundaries, the Mughal poet Mirza Ghalib, gender fluidity, Sufism in South Asia, prophethood, and same-sex love.


In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project of which TIRN is a part), announced its official institutional affiliation with New Books in Islamic Studies — a bi-weekly audio podcast featuring hour long conversations with authors of exciting new research. For an archive see HERE

1,000 Years of Scientific Texts From The Islamic World Are Now Online
(courtesy IO9)

by MARK STRAUSS for IO9.COM on OCTOBER 28, 2014: 

Between the 9th and 19th centuries, Arabic-speaking scholars translated Greek, Latin and even Sanskrit texts on topics such as medicine, mathematics and astronomy, fostering a vibrant scientific culture within the Islamic world. Some of the most influential texts are now available at the Qatar Digital Library.

The library, a joint project of the British Library and the Qatar Foundation, offers free access to 25,000 pages of medieval Islamic manuscripts. Among some of the most significant texts:

The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (1206 A.D.), which was inspired by an earlier, 9th-century translation of Archimedes’ writings on water clocks. Devices such as the “Elephant Clock” (pictured below) were the most accurate time-keeping pieces before the first pendulum clocks were built in the 17th century by the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens.



Hosted by the University of Cambridge, 8-9 April 2015

***Deadline: 15 November 2014***

Applications are warmly invited for papers that relate to any aspect of Iranian studies in any discipline within the humanities and social sciences. This includes but is by no means limited to: ancient through to contemporary history and historiography; anthropology; archaeology; cultural heritage and conservation; social and political theory; Diaspora and area studies; ecology and the environment; economics; historical geography; history of medicine; art and architecture history; education; international relations and political science; epigraphy, languages, literature, linguistics and philology; new media and communication studies; philosophy; religions and theology; classical studies; sociology; film studies and the performing arts. Comparative themes and interdisciplinary approaches are also very welcome. Continue reading