is a Roshan Institute Research Fellow and the Associate Director of the Roshan Initiative in Persian Digital Humanities (PersDig@UMD) at the University of Maryland, College Park. He also serves as the co-PI for the multi-institutional Islamicate Texts Initiative (OpenITI) and the Persian Manuscript Initiative (PMI). Previously he was a dissertation fellow at Washington University in St. Louis (2013-2014), Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute Fellow (2012-2013), and Mellon Sawyer Graduate Fellow (2011-2012). He currently is working on a book project, entitled The Poetics Sufi Carnival: The ‘Rogue Lyrics’ (Qalandariyât) of Sanâ’i, ‘Attâr, and ‘Erâqi, and a number of articles on the topics of: (1) sexuality and embodiment in the medieval Persian world, and (2) computational (“distant reading”) approaches to Persian literature. His full CV is available here.
Project #1: Transforming dissertation into monograph. My dissertation, The Poetics of the Sufi Carnival: The Rogue Lyrics (Qalandariyyāt) of Sanā’ī, ‘Attār, and ‘Erāqī, is the first detailed study of the “rogue lyrics” (qalandariyyāt) of medieval Persian Sufi poetry. Poems in the qalandariyyāt genre typically deploy a complex range of antinomian and transgressive figures, settings, and symbols in an effort to exhort readers to reject the pretenses of superficial Islamic piety in favor of what they term “true infidelity” (kufr-e haqīqī). They fashion a carnivalesque poetic world whose mode of piety requires the transgression and parodic inversion of all religious and social norms, including rejecting the mosque and Ka’ba in favor of the winehouse; opting for apostasy and disbelief over ‘Islam’; and extolling the virtues of wine and love of the cupbearer (usually portrayed as youthful male). These “rogue lyrics” made an indelible impact not only on the development of Persian mystical poetry but also on the poetic imaginaries of other Islamicate literatures as well (e.g. Turkish, Hindi/Urdu, Punjabi). While scholars of Sufism frequently discuss this poetry as a literary manifestation of the malāmatīs (blame-seekers), a study of its poetics and broader cultural import has remained a desideratum to date. My dissertation addresses this lacuna by showing how the qalandari “poetics of the Sufi carnival” transforms Persian poetry, Sufism (Islamic mysticism), and even the discursive construction of sexuality in the Persianate world.
I am the associate director for the Roshan Initiative in Persian Digital Humanities at the University of Maryland (PersDig@UMD). Initiated in 2014 by the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies, PersDig@UMD is the first large-scale Persian Digital Humanities program in the United States. It has grown quickly, establishing partnerships with the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML), Perseus Digital Library, Arethusa and Alpheios, the Library of Congress (LOC), and UMD’s library services. We are currently developing two major projects: the Persian Manuscript Initiative (PMI) and the Persian Digital Library, which is a part of the larger Islamicate Texts Initiative (OpenITI). I have also worked with my colleagues Maxim Romanov and Cameron Cross to establish the Islamicate-DH (I-DH) site, which aims to aggregate news and pedagogical resources related to Islamicate Digital Humanities, including the educational resources for the Global Classroom course “The Islamicate World 2.0: Studying Islamic Cultures through Computational Textual Analysis,” which is taught by Maxim Romanov and me.
Project #3: Distant Reading Persian Literature. My interest in computational textual analysis of Persian literature (sometimes called “distant reading” or, as Matthew Jockers has recently termed it, “macroanalysis“) began while I was writing the first chapter of my dissertation. As I read some of the foundational work on computational approaches to genre by Michael Witmore & Jonathan Hope, the Stanford Literary Lab, Ted Underwood et al., and Matthew Jockers, it struck me that this type of analysis could aid me in answering some of the broader questions I raise in this chapter about the development of genres in medieval Persian literature. So I began experimenting with various forms of stylometric analysis and topic modeling to ascertain if they could help me answer these questions about genre development in medieval Persian poetry at the macro scale. The early results—which I present in one section of this chapter and are the first of their kind—are quite promising, and I will greatly expand this analysis in the process of revising the dissertation for publication. Additionally, I am also collaborating with a colleague from University of Chicago, Austin O’Malley, on a stylometric authorial attribution study of ‘Attar’s disputed masnavis, which similarly is a pioneering effort to apply computational stylometric methods to medieval Persian literary works.
Project #4: Embodying the (Same-sex) Beloved. My second major project will analyze the poetics and cultural politics of same-sex desire(s) in medieval Persianate Sufism. Combining close readings of a wide range of poetry, biographies, and other genres (e.g. mirror for princes, legal treatises) with insights from contemporary queer theory and medieval sexuality studies (especially the works of Simon Gaunt, Karma Lochrie, and Richard Rambuss), I will argue against the modern tendency to disembody, de-sexualize, and “straighten” Sufi eroticism. I have already made substantial progress on this second project. In addition to the fourth chapter of my dissertation, I also have presented several papers on the topic at past MESA, MLA, and ACLA conferences (see the full list at my academia.edu site).
Project #5: New Orientalism. I have an active interest in the way in which the “Middle East” and Islamic communities are represented in global anglophone literature. Of particular interest to me are works such as Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner which reproduce in a distinctly new, yet familiar, form the basic contours of traditional Orientalism. While elements of “New Orientalism” infect a great deal of contemporary journalistic, nonfiction, and film treatments of the Middle East (the “Islamic world”), I am most interested in its literary (fictional) manifestations (e.g. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner) and how these works embody and perform a new orientalism through their imaginary worlds and characters. I have wrote a little on this topic, in a public intellectual way (see: ‘The Kite Runner’ Critiqued: New Orientalism Goes to the Big Screen), and I plan to return to this project after my first monograph is completed.
My areas of teaching interest are in Persian and Arabic literature/culture (all periods), global anglophone literature treating the Islamic world, literary and cultural theory (especially, women, gender, and sexuality studies, translation studies, digital humanities, and cognitive literary theory), religion and literature (e.g. Sufi literature, Qur’an as Literature), and Islamic/Middle Eastern Studies. I have recently taught the following courses (syllabi available upon request):
PERS 498/698, WMST 498D/698D, CMLT679, HIST419C/619C: Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in the Islamic World
Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in the Islamic World is an advanced introduction to the study of the changing norms of sex, gender, and sexuality in the Islamicate world, past and present. Through engagement with primary source readings, recent scholarly studies, and theoretical literature from Gender and Sexuality Studies and Queer Theory, we will cover such topics as: Islamic sexual ethics; homo- and heteroerotic poetry and art of both the spiritual and profane varieties; transvestism, androgyny, and gender nonconformity in the medieval Islamic world; premodern Islamic medical and courtly advice literature on sex; and the construction of “sexuality” (homo- and heterosexuality) in the modern Middle East. The course does not require any prior knowledge of Gender and Sexuality Studies or Islamicate cultures and languages..
SLLC Global Classrooms Course 499I: The Islamicate World 2.0: Studying Islamic Cultures through Computational Textual Analysis
In this Global Classrooms course, University of Maryland and Universität Leipzig students will come together to learn the basics of computational textual analysis while participating as student researchers in the nascent project of exploring the vast and largely unexplored tomes of textual data about the Islamicate world. It will also introduce students to theoretical and methodological debates in the field of global digital humanities. Like the digital humanities field that inspires its approach, it will be a highly interdisciplinary course that studies texts from multiple genres (lyric poetry to historical chronicles, legal treatises to the Quran) and languages (Arabic, Persian) with the aid of computational textual analysis tools. There are no language prerequisites, but it is preferable if students at least have elementary knowledge of either Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Urdu. Course materials will be posted at the Islamicate-DH (I-DH) site throughout the fall 2016 semester.
SLLC 499W: Introduction to Global Digital Humanities
Introduction to Global Digital Humanities seeks to provide a more ‘global’ window on the field of Digital Humanities (DH) and its associated technologies. Building on other critical approaches to DH (e.g. Postcolonial Digital Humanities, #TransformDH, Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (GO::DH)), it aims to both constructively problematize DH as a field from multiple ‘peripheral’ perspectives and introduce students to some of the technologies they can utilize to make DH more ‘global.’ The ‘global’ in ‘Global DH’ is meant in two senses: we will foreground contributions to and critiques of DH from both the widest possible geographic range and other (digital) communities that are peripheral in the DH field due their linguistic, racial, sexual, or technological particularities. For more on this course, see blog post here.
PERS 371: Introduction to Persian Literature in Translation
Introduction to Persian Literature in Translation aims to provide the student with a general introduction to the (New) Persian literary tradition, beginning with the Book of Kings (Shah-Nameh) (composed late 10th/early 11th century) and concluding with the “New Poetry” and modern novels of twentieth-century Iran. It requires no knowledge of the Persian language or prior course work in Persian literature. Through close readings of works by many of the most important authors in Persian literature and a limited number of secondary studies, the student will come to be acquainted with the basic contours of the Persian literary tradition, including its principle generic forms and important historical transformations. Students will also have the opportunity to engage in their own independent research on several topics of their own choice related to Persian literature (in consultation with the instructor), which they will report on in the form of a class presentation, book review, and short final paper.
PERS 398M: Lyrics of Mystical Love: East and West
Fall 2011, Fall 2014
Lyrics of Mystical Love: East and West is a journey through the mystical love poetry of some of the world’s most important mystical poets: Rumi, Ibn ‘Arabi, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, amongst many others. Like any journey, this journey will require certain preparations and provisions. We will need to prepare ourselves for this adventure by studying the religious, social, and political contexts in which these mystical poets wrote (e.g. Ernst) and also discuss some of the (theoretical) pitfalls that others have identified along the route (e.g. King). Ultimately, however, this journey is a poetic journey. In other words, the class and its projects will primarily revolve around visits to the poetic worlds of different poets. We will examine the work of each poet through a variety of different lens of literary analysis (e.g. Culler) and also read a number of works that exemplify the literary approach to analysis of mystical poetry (e.g. Keshavarz, Sells).
In addition to the courses above, I have developed syllabi for the following courses: Queering the ‘Islamicate’ World: Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in Islamic Cultures, Iranian Cinema, The Qur’ān as Literature, Introduction to Modern Middle Eastern Literatures, Introduction to Translation Studies, Popular Fiction on the “Islamic World” in the Age of the War on Terrorism: Khaled Hosseini, Azar Nafisi, and other New York Times Bestsellers, and Women Writers of the Modern Middle East. My broad training in comparative literature, Islamic studies, and women, gender, and sexuality studies has equipped me to teach other introductory and theoretical/methods courses as well, such as Introduction to Islamic Studies, Introduction to Digital Humanities, Introduction to Women, Sexuality, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, or Introduction to Comparative Literature.
Connect with me on Academia.edu and Twitter: