Scholar Activist Series

In the Fall of 2020, DISC began a series that engaged Duke alums who were active in Middle East, Islamic Studies, Gender Studies, and Muslim life during their time on campus.  We asked the invited speakers to talk to the personal, intellectual, academic, and spiritual trajectory through life, Duke, and graduate school.  Although virtual, we had a lively series of Alums who were willing to wrestle with what scholar activism is, who they are as scholars, and what they are currently working on.  Each talk is available to view below.

Fall 2020

"The Ink of a Poet: Writing & The Art of Transforming the Wretched as Sacred" with Antonio López, PhD Candidate at Stanford University

Born and raised in the East Palo Alto, CA Antonio López received his B.A. in Global Cultural Studies and African & African-American studies from Duke University. He's received scholarships to attend the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, the Home School, Tin House Summer Workshop, the Key West Literary Seminar, and the Vermont Studio Center. He is a proud member of the Macondo Writers Workshop, a CantoMundo Fellow, and a 2019 Adroit Summer Mentor. His nonfiction has been featured or is forthcoming in PEN/America, The Latino Book Review, and Insider Higher Education, and his poetry in BOAAT, Hayden's Ferry Review, Adroit Journal, Puerto del Sol, Huizache, Tin House and elsewhere. He was runner up for the inaugural Palette Poetry Spotlight Award of 2019 and the recipient of the 2019 Katherine Bakeless Nelson Award in Poetry for the 2019 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. He received his Masters in Fine Arts (poetry) at Rutgers-Newark. As a 2018 Marshall Scholar, he received a Masters in Philosophy in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oxford, where he was also poetry editor of the Oxford Review of Books.

"Navigating Afro-Arab Studies in Graduate School" with Razan Idris, PhD Candidate at University of Pennsylvania

Razan Idris is a Sudanese-American third-year PhD student in History at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies histories of blackness in Afro-Arab communities on the African continent and in diaspora. For her current project, Razan has been exploring black identity at the religious institute of al-Azhar in Egypt since 1800. Razan is also the curator of the online #SudanSyllabus open project, collecting resources on Sudanese social, cultural, and intellectual history. 

"Rednecks, White Muslims: Whiteness & Religious Normativity in the American South" With Zachary Faircloth, PhD Candidate at University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

Zachary Faircloth is a PhD student at UNC Chapel Hill in the Department of American Studies. Previously, he studied Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University and holds a Master's degree from the University of Florida from the Department of Religion. His work focuses on the entanglement of race and religion, rurality in the US South, and Critical Ethnic Studies. He is originally from Horry County, South Carolina.

“Chronopolitical Assemblages: How Gender Reassignment Makes Racial Genus in Modern Iran” with Dr. M. Shadee Malaklou, Assistant Professor at Berea College

M. Shadee Malaklou is a critical race and gender and sexuality studies scholar with expertise in Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks (1952). Her research argues that gender and sexuality are produced as identity and type through the exclusion of black people from Euro-American discourses of modernity—or, from its social and political construction of time (i.e., its chronopolitics). This research contributes significantly not just to the study of racial blackness but also to how we understand how the non-black subaltern. In addition to writing for academic journals, she regularly publishes think pieces, most recently, in The ConversationalistThe Feminist Wire, and CounterPunch (and here) and periodically contributes to Always Already: A Critical Theory Podcast as the Frantz Fanon correspondent. In addition to her appointment at Berea College, Malaklou serves as visiting faculty in the Centre for Expanded Poetics at Concordia University in Montreal. She received her PhD in Culture and Theory and graduate certificates in Critical Theory and Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of California, Irvine and her BA in Cultural Anthropology and Women's Studies from Duke University.

Spring 2021

“Reading for Gender in Islamic Law” with Dr. Saadia Yacoob, Assistant Professor at Williams College

This talk focuses on discussions about consent to marriage in Islamic law, and asks whether gender is a predictable determiner of an individual's legal status. From the marriage of free individuals to enslaved people and children, Muslim jurists considered a number of social factors in determining whether an individual had the right of consent to marriage. Thinking at the intersection of these different social identities allows us to see that gender was not the primary identity through which social relations were ordered in Islamic law. An intersectional analysis demonstrates that to fully grasp the complex social order imagined and authorized by Muslim jurists, we must think beyond the gender binary.

Saadia Yacoob is Assistant Professor of Religion at Williams College. She holds a PhD from Duke University and an MA from the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. Her research focuses on the construction of gender in early Islamic law, exploring the legal tradition's normative constructions of maleness and femaleness and the gendered body and the impact of these gendered norms on legal hermeneutics. More broadly, her research interests include the history of Islamic law, Islamic feminism, history of sexuality, feminist epistemology, and legal anthropology.

"Ummah : The Effects of Community Responsibility on Muslim Political Behavior in the United States" with Dr. Nura Sediqe, Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs 

Drawing on an originally fielded survey of 1,000 Muslims in the United States, Dr. Nura Sediqe assess what influence the racial climate has on Muslims commitment to community (ummah). Sediqe develop a theory for 'ummah consciousness' to understand how commitment to the ummah may influence political behavior. Sediqe finds that Muslims who hold a higher sense of ummah consciousness are more likely to participate in communal-specific types of political participation. The findings highlight how Muslims hold on to a sense of community in response to being racialized.

Dr. Nura A. Sediqe is a postdoctoral research associate and lecturer at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. Most recently, she co-taught SPIA's "The Politics of Public Policy" as part of the core curriculum for the first year MPA students. Her research interests involve how identity, namely racialized identities and gender, influence individual's policy preferences and political behavior. Her forthcoming book manuscript investigates Muslims in the United States and how the evolution of their identities has influenced their policy preferences. She also writes on Black political behavior, focusing on the intersection of race and religion for Black Muslims.

"A Conversation about the Uyghur Genocide" with Aydin Anwar

Aydin Anwar is an Uyghur American with over 90 relatives missing in China’s mass surveillance and incarceration system. Last year, Aydin served as the team lead of the Save Uyghur campaign under Justice For All, a human rights non-profit advocating against systematic Muslim oppression worldwide. During her youth and college years, she worked on East Turkistan advocacy by raising awareness through media, public speaking, and working on relief efforts for Uyghur refugees in Turkey. She has spoken on multiple media outlets on the topic of East Turkistan, genocide, and the faulty 'war on terror', with her most notable video piece on Now This garnering over 100 million online views worldwide. Aydin holds a Bachelor of Arts from Duke University in International Comparative Studies.

“Women and Gender Ethics in Qur’anic Narratives” with Dr. Hina Azam, Associate Professor at University of Texas - Austin

Engaged scholarship on women and gender in Islam, and particularly in the Qur’an, has typically concentrated on prescriptive passages – first and foremost those that are legal in nature, and secondarily those that are ethical in nature. Such studies have yielded important insights as well as new interpretations of what the Qur’an may be prescribing for its audiences. While the prescription-oriented approach has continued apace and remains productive, some scholars have found discussion of Qur’anic prescriptions to be of limited utility, arguing that problems raised by the Qur’an’s prescriptions on gender ultimately cannot be solved without consideration of the Qur’an’s descriptive passages – those that are theological or anthropological in nature. This attention to the Qur’an’s theological and anthropological content, and consideration of what that content tells us about the scripture’s views on women and gender, has yielded a second rich body of Islamic feminist scholarship. Yet there is a third Qur’anic genre that has been less explored for its implications on questions of women and gender. This is the genre of narrative – that is, of stories. Narrative interpretive methods have been little applied to the study of the Qur’an, including on the topics of women and gender, despite the recent literary turn in the study of the scripture, and the seeming closeness of narrative approaches and literary approaches. Few studies of women and gender in the Qur’an – significant though they have been – have focused identifying the anthropological and moral ramifications of its stories, nor have they focused on the theoretical problems of drawing prescriptive lessons from the Qur’an’s narrative content. My research proposes to analyze the Qur’an’s stories about women, and to offer some thoughts on the problem of extracting ethical prescriptions from narrative content.

Dr. Hina Azam teaches courses in Islamic Studies such as Islamic theology, Islamic law, the Qur'an, Qur'an interpretation, and Islamic feminism, as well as a course on comparative religions of the Middle East. Her research focuses on women/gender/sexuality in Islam, ethics, and pedagogy. She supervises or serves as reader for undergraduate and graduate theses and dissertations across the University. She is currently the Graduate Advisor for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and also serves on the Graduate Assembly, the Curriculum and Design Committee for the College of Liberal Arts, and the Steering Committee for the Jefferson Center for Core Texts and Ideas. Dr. Azam is a faculty affiliate/GSC member with the Department of Religious Studies and the Center for Women and Gender Studies. She is a Provost Teaching Fellow, currently working on a project entitled "Teaching the University." Her book, Sexual Violation in Islamic Law, won the American Historical Association's 2016 James Henry Breasted award for pre-modern history. In 2019, the Alcalde named Dr. Azam as one of the TexasTen, in recognition of her outstanding teaching. Dr. Azam oversees the Islamic Studies Reading Group, the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (ISMES) Colloquium, and the undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Islamic Studies housed in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies.

"Surviving Genres: Rethinking the Islamic Discursive Tradition in Colonial India" with Dr. Ali Altaf Mian, Assistant Professor at University of Florida

This talk explores the analytical opportunities afforded by a methodological focus on genre and what Talal Asad calls "the sensible body" for critically examining the Islamic discursive tradition in colonial India. To deploy a trans-genre approach to "Muslim traditionalism" and its rich textual sources allows us to deepen our understanding of well-studied themes, such as reform, religious authority, and community. It also gives us a means by which to draw attention to the relevance of less-studied themes, especially everyday ethics, desire, and sexual difference. This intervention raises the questions: How do the practice and interpretation of Islam change across genres? How do the textual representations of ordinary life reveal Muslims' ethical concerns and aesthetic sensibilities, and thus their mode of engagement with the so-called "Islamic discursive tradition"? How do norms and values change between physical and textual spaces? And how do genre-based discursive and institutional practices change across time and space?

To read Dr. Mian's article, which this talk was based on, visit here.

Ali Altaf Mian is Assistant Professor of Religion and Izzat Hasan Sheikh Fellow in Islamic Studies at the University of Florida. His research interests include Islam in South Asia, gender and sexuality in modern Islam, and Islamic law and ethics.