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My expertise lies in the medieval and early-modern Persianate world and focuses on the cultural, social and political histories of Iran, Iraq, Anatolia, and parts of Central Asia, Persian-speaking regions in which Islam was diversely “translated” in the processes of conversion. My scholarship on the Irano-Islamic past has been inspired and broadly informed by critical innovations over the last three decades in the field of cultural studies, and ‘materialist’ modes of analysis that offer new historical approaches to the materiality of human lives as well as the remarkable range of evidentiary materials historians now employ. These groundbreaking innovations in historiography have vitalized my research, which began with a study of religious and political authority in Safavi Iran (1501-1722), and then advanced to a close examination of the ways in which textures of time and being influenced the pre-modern writing of Persianate history and the ritualistic performances of Persianate “memory.” In my first book, Mystics, Messiahs, and Monarchs, I explored the Safavi imperial enterprise’s transformation of eastern Islamdom, in which the memory of a rich pre-Islamic Persian culture converged with Shi‘i strands of Islam, characterized by consummate devotion to Ali and his family.
Drawn to the study of marginal groups in history, I collaborated with three colleagues, Susan Babaie, Massumeh Farhad and Ena Baghdiantz-McCabe to write a volume on slavery in Safavi Iran. Slaves of the Shah combines a multifaceted approach to the study of emerging slave elites in seventeenth-century Isfahan. Each of us individually drew on our disciplinary perspectives (patronage of the arts and architecture, court politics, and trade) to collectively narrate the formation of networks of Armenian and Georgian slaves who shaped the political and cultural life of Safavi Isfahan.
My scholarship has gained much by thinking about gender and sexuality historically. Together with my colleague Afsaneh Najamabadi, we co-edited the volume Islamicate Sexualties. Diverging from the historiographic tradition that has marginalized the constructs of gender and sexuality beyond the concerns of history proper, we invited historians and literary scholars to think about culture and history through the analytical frames of gender and sexuality. The specificity of queering Islamicate history and culture was productive for rethinking tropes for masculinity, pederasty or effeminacy produced by orientalist discourses. Our discussions resulted in a collective reimagining of Islamicate history.
My current book manuscript, The City as Anthology is the first to examine literacy in 17th century Isfahan, the capital of the Safavi dynasty (1501-1722) which declared Shi’ism the religion of state in Iran. Writing experienced a transformation beyond epigraphy and the medium of stone or ceramics onto the surface of a sheet of paper with the assemblage of a new kind of book, the anthology, or majmu’a/muraqqa’. Monumental public writing and the more intimate writing on paper reveal a larger cultural turn towards literacy. Albums of calligraphy, paintings, letters, essays and poetry were produced in households as part of a cultured practice of adab, or etiquette. I am interested in the multiplication of materials, both visual and literary for writing in and about the city. Writing and painting on paper, the attention to subjective knowledge production, and its assemblage into household anthologies represents different ways of experiencing the self in the city. These alternative views of the city disturb the imperial imaginary, thus putting a stress on the effort at ideological unity involved in the royal project of rebuilding Isfahan into an early modern capital.
- Near Eastern Studies
- Armenian Studies
Fields of Study
- Early Modern Iran
- Gender and Sexuality
- 2011-2012 Visiting Fellow, Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan
- 2008 University of Michigan Humanities Award
- 2006 Rackham Spring/Summer Research Grant
- 2004 Honorable Mention, Said Sirjani Book Award, International Society for Iranian Studies
- May 2000 Visiting Fellow, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales, Paris, France
- 1999–2000 Visiting Fellow, Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan
- (2008) Islamicate Sexualities
- (2004) Slaves of the Shah
- (2002) Mystics, Monarchs and Messiahs