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JCUPN/l Cl llDDll l/Sf WCllN´S SfUDllS
Vol. 4, No. 2 (Spring 2008) · 2008
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Azza Basarudin, Universitv of California, Los Angeles
A
Research Roundtable of Southern California Scholars held at the
Universitv of California, Los Angeles, on Februarv 13, 2008, brought
together sixteen facultv and graduate students to share their own current
research and assess the direction of research on women and gender in the
Middle East/North Africa (MENA) and Muslim societies internationallv.
Organized bv the +PVSOBMPG.JEEMF&BTU8PNFOT4UVEJFT and cosponsored
bv the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, Center for the Studv of
Women, Women's Studies Department, and Center for Southeast Asian
Studies, and the UC Santa Barbara Women's Studies Program and Center
for Middle East Studies, the event was designed to stimulate research on
MENA and Arab and Muslim communities, and to build an extensive and
inclusive academic research communitv. An audience of approximatelv 50
listened to the discussion and attended the reception that followed.
Conference participants represented various disciplines including
Anthropologv, Communications Studies, Comparative Literature, His-
torv, Islamic Studies, and Women's Studies. Ѯev were encouraged to
discuss their research in relation to a number of questions posed bv the
organizers, +.&84 co-editors Nancv Gallagher and Sondra Hale:
- From what sources have our ideas fowed in the frst part of the
twentv-frst centurv, e.g., from the Global North or the Global
South or a combination thereof:
- What is the status of feminisms as we travel the globe:
- How has globalization shaped our felds:
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- Which felds are most infuential in contemporarv international
MENA/Muslim studies of gender, e.g. social sciences, humani-
ties, comparative literature, modernist studies, postcolonial
studies, development studies, transnational studies, etc.:
- How have various ¨perpetual conficts" had an impact on our
scholarship, including U.S. occupations, the ¨war on terrorism,"
the situation in Palestine, and crises in Muslim areas such as
Darfur:
- How would vou characterize the epistemological journevs and
research trajectories of MENA/Muslim communities gender
studies in the twentv-frst centurv:
- Is the gender concept viable in the Age of Empire:
- With reference to gender, race, class, and sexualitv, is intersec-
tionalitv an important conceptual and methodological approach
for the studv of MENA in the Age of Empire:
- What are the most viable and relevant theories, pedagogies, and
epistemologies in contemporarv MENA/Muslim communities
gender studies:
- Are studies and programming around such topics as human
rights, academic freedom, and MENA/Muslim women in a
healthv state in the U.S. academv:
- Have Marxism, political economv, and research on class lost
ground in our feld:
- Does religious studies (namelv the studv of Islam) still dominate
the feld: What are the wavs that religion has been taken up out-
side of religious studies: Put another wav, how has religion or
religious studies been reconfgured and what does this mean for
our scholarship:
- What is the health of women's studies within sexualitv studies:
Are women being excluded from sexualitv studies:
Ece Algan (California State Universitv, San Bernardino) described
her research focus on the interactive impacts of globalization and local
media on the construction of contemporarv communications technolo-
gies, and their infuence on women's negotiating strategies and the reas-
sessment of patriarchv and gender identities in rural Turkev. Fiazuddin
Shuavb (UCLA) outlined his research in Muslim feminist hermeneutics
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as thev refect anti-patriarchal readings, allowing for concepts of gender
equitv, and as thev speak to traditional exegesis of Islamic sacred texts
on gender as a whole. Gil Hochberg (UCLA) invoked the pervasive meta-
phors of walls and borders as promising tools for the analvsis of gender,
identitv, gav/sexualitv, and queer activism in the context of national and
ethnic partition in Israel/Palestine, and emphasized the need to redefne
kev terms (e.g., in this case, ¨queer") at the outset of anv new research
project. Amv Malek (UCLA) described her preparatorv studv of cul-
tural productions of Iranian diasporic communities in New York Citv,
focusing on representations of sexualitv and identitv.
Ianell Rothenberg (UCLA) described the feld of her research as
the interplav of tourism and migration and of gender and sexualitv in
urban Morocco and in North Africa more broadlv, inspired in part bv
the phenomenon of street harassment in Tangiers. Sherna Berger Gluck
(CSU Long Beach) discussed ethical questions related to the oral his-
torv of Palestinian women's consciousness, and the infuence of political
context on the recording of this historv, comparing various contexts
from BM/BLCB (the Catastrophe) to the recent *OUJGBEIBs. Nikki Ked-
die (UCLA) spoke of her research focus on the complex relationship
between missionarv women, (neo) Orientalism, and modes of libera-
torv politics. Navereh Tohidi (CSU Northridge) discussed two sets of
contradictorv global concerns, one facilitating new spaces of empower-
ment and the other circumscribing Muslim women's agencv (¨double
blackmail") in relation to the interplav of ¨glocal" Islamic reformation
and the processes of democratization.
Nancv Gallagher (UC Santa Barbara) briefv reviewed the historv
of gender studies in MENA and Muslim societies and the role of the
Association for Middle East Women's Studies (AMEWS) and its of-
fcial journal +.&84 in advancing this bodv of scholarship. She also
gave a précis of her own research specialization in the analvsis of NGO
advocacv of women's human rights in the Muslim world. Sondra Hale
(UCLA) discussed the impact of perpetual conficts (e.g. the U.S.-led
¨war on terror," the occupations of Iraq and Palestine, and the continu-
ing civil war in Sudan) in shiѫing the focus of her research from women
in social movements to war, militarization, occupation, and genocide
and the impact of such violence on women. Houri Berberian (CSU Long
Beach) described her current research on the roles of Armenian women
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in Safavid New Iulfa, given the frequent and long-term absence of male
Armenian traders from the communitv, and her comparative studv of
the legal codes of several communicating Armenian communities to
draw out the tvpe and extent of women's rights and powers in terms of
inheritance, business, marriage, etc. Lara Deeb (UC Irvine) has been
researching the relationship between pietv and representational politics,
and the intersection of memorialization practices with public religiosi-
ties and understandings of historv and temporalitv among the Lebanese
Shia, and is now bringing some of these concerns to comparative re-
search on Arab Americans.
Sherine Hafez (UC Riverside) has been studving the destabiliza-
tion of binarv modes of representation in women's Islamic activism and
the production of female subjectivitv in Islamic movements. Khanum
Shaikh (UCLA) is researching the emergence of new forms of religiositv
produced through engagement with religious studies in Pakistan, and
how these forms travel via transnational circuits and are interpreted in
a multicultural Canadian setting. Azza Basarudin (UCLA) discussed
her recent feld research on Muslim women's religious and cultural
intellectual activism in Malavsia and Egvpt, the creation of ¨moral"
communities, and the tvpes of identitv politics that emerge from this
intellectual activism. Rana Sharif (UCLA) is investigating the question
of disciplinaritv in relation to the studv of MENA and Muslim com-
munities, and developing the concept of ¨ideological dexteritv" in the
Palestinian women's movement.
Since its emergence more than three decades ago through the pio-
neering works of Fatima Mernissi, Nikki Keddie, and Nawal El Saadawi,
the studv of gender in MENA and Muslim societies has made enormous
contributions to knowledge of women's lives, achievements, roles, and
status, and has provided refreshing perspectives that subvert grand nar-
ratives and universal claims for the marginalization of women. Bv con-
ceiving Islam as other than monolithic and deterministic-as it has been
and continues to be represented in (neo) Orientalist discourse-feminist
scholarship has complicated the notion of Islam as the sole factor shap-
ing the lives of women (and men) in Muslim societies. Furthermore, the
new scholarship grounds and deepens the analvsis of gender politics bv
locating Islamic practices within specifc historical, geographical, social,
and political contexts.
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Yet, while the representation of Muslim women as a homogeneous
group subject to the conventional dictates of religious forces has been
partiallv abandoned, the contemporarv political moment of the ¨global
war on terrorism" and the forces of (neo) Orientalism have revived the
essentialist trope of an unchanging and ahistorical Islam and reunited
it with overwhelminglv denigrating stereotvpes of Muslim women. As
essentialist paradigms continue to be emploved in the service of militarv
occupations, e.g. of Iraq and Afghanistan, and as veiling and seclusion
are svmbolicallv cited as justifcation for militarv intervention, this
burgeoning scholarship, and in particular the strategv of claiming rights
through a gender-justice reading of Islamic sacred texts, illuminates
contextualization, moral agencies, and the responsibilities of Muslim
women in contradiction to the old paradigms. Ѯis strategv undermines
simplistic assumptions and ¨rescue narratives" about Muslim women,
clearing the wav for a pragmatic understanding of how women have
utilized, and continue to utilize, the frameworks oĒered bv religion and
culture to negotiate and/or destabilize dominant discourses on gender.
Ѯe contributions of Omaima Abou-Bakr, Leila Ahmed, Asma Barlas,
Barbara Frever Stowasser, and Amina Wadud to Our'anic hermeneutics
and exegesis have informed, shaped, and reconfgured the epistemolo-
gies of the studv of religion. Ѯis scholarship has also produced a ho-
listic research trajectorv that engages religion and religiositv for social
transformation in the studv of gender in MENA and Muslim societies
of the twentv-frst centurv.
Given the time constraints of the roundtable (each speaker was
allocated fve minutes), participants lacked the opportunitv to respond
to each other and to adequatelv engage the audience. Presenter-audi-
ence interaction is vital to facilitate the dialogue and conversation that
nurture an inclusive academic communitv that can also move bevond
the academic space. Furthermore, the discussion could have benefted
bv addressing more of the focal questions posed bv the organizers, spe-
cifcallv on concepts of masculinitv, political economv, and class which
have the potential to further contextualize and problematize gender
power relations. In future gatherings it will also be fruitful to include
scholars working in the areas of Arab American and Muslim American
studies and learn about the epistemologies and research trajectories of
this up-and-coming feld.
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Ѯis thoughtfullv conceived roundtable not onlv served as a timelv
gathering to reassess the direction of the studv of gender in MENA and
Muslim societies, but also provided an excellent opportunitv to envision
the future of this feld and to build a local intergenerational communitv
of scholars. Ѯe presentations and reception provided a dvnamic space
to share and exchange ideas, scholarship, and activism. Based on the
diverse disciplines and the original research interests represented at the
roundtable, we can look forward to a great deal of signifcant and excit-
ing scholarship in this feld.

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