Over Elon’s Fall Break, I had the chance to visit a colleague working at Bates in Maine. We explored Portland’s record stores, restaurants, coffee shops, cryptozoology museum (!!), and used bookstores. Just around the corner from the museum, The Green Hand carried a well-curated selection of sci-fi and fantasy novels. They also had an extensive selection of poetry – and not just the usual local chapbooks plus 10 copies of Picnic, Lightning and/or oodles of Mary Oliver.
Among the poetry shelves, I stumbled across two surprising and exciting books. One was a quadrilingual (Persian, English, French, German) edition of Omar Khayyam with an introduction by Sadeq Hedayat. I probably won’t have time to explore this until Winter Break, but if anyone has read Hedayat’s introduction before, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it.
Another work that intrigued me was a 1931 edition of The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi “translated” by Sir Richard Burton and illustrated by Willy Pogany. The introduction, by Dhan Gopal Mukerji, focuses on Burton’s pessimism and fatalism, uncharacteristic for a “healthy and intelligent Anglo-Saxon.” Mukerji implies that Haji Abdu el-Yezdi is a fabrication and the poem is a Burton original, perhaps an attempt to introduce the English to Sufism. I’ll work my way through it over the next few weeks to see if it’s anything other than a peculiar Orientalist curiosity, but in the meantime, take a look at some of Pogany’s illustrations, and the characteristic celebration of antinomianism near the end of the poem.
Fall classes begin tomorrow, and my first is at 8am – an introduction to Religious Studies course filled with first-years. I’ll be their first college teacher. A daunting task, but I’m thrilled with the syllabus revisions I’ve made over the past few weeks and looking forward to the semester. Over the past few days, these blog posts have become touchstones for me:
Martyn Oliver – 10 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Religion
Sonya Huber – Shadow Syllabus
Let’s do this!
I was speaking to a colleague recently about submitting abstracts to the AAR. The graduate student culture at UNC encourages presenting one’s work on a large stage early and often. It’s one of the reasons our program has such strong representation at the AAR (especially in Islamic Studies, but I’m sure in other subfields as well). But it can be a hugely anxious process to subject one’s work to the scrutiny of others at so early a stage in one’s career. This anxiety can be further heightened by the fact that this isn’t always an anonymous process. It’s one thing to submit a proposal outlining new or in-progress research to an anonymous panel…entirely another when that proposal will be reviewed by faculty members and alum of your own program. Eventually, however, it seems like the AAR’s sections and committees can begin to feel like intellectual homes-away-from-home.
I sympathized with my colleague’s anxiety, and joined in the ego-protecting conversation about how shoddy our proposals were due to other obligations surrounding the submission deadline. In the end, however, both proposals were accepted. For my colleague, this will be a first visit to AAR as a presenter. For me, it will be the third…and fifth paper presented at a national academic conference (two at MESA). In spite of this, it is perhaps only with this proposal that I’m beginning to feel at home in the genre of conference proposals and papers — to know what is and isn’t workable in a 1000-word abstract and a 15-20 minute talk. It’s also the first time that my proposal has attracted attention of a subfield outside of my own.
This year I’ll be presenting a paper called “Soul Birds, Man Mules, and Dead Dogs: Animal Religion, Beastly Hybridity, and the Boundaries of the Human in Nizami Ganjavi’s Makhzan al-Asrar” before the Animals and Religion Group. I’m excited about the opportunity to present my work before a broader audience, but also humbled by the challenge of providing nuance and articulating significance without getting deep into the weeds of my own specialization. One critique I heard of the excellent Study of Islam Section panel I was on last year was that it was perhaps too well constructed. For those interested in medieval literary depictions of the Prophet, it was a smorgasbord of data with a light smattering of theoretical insight. But for those working in a different time period, context, or religious tradition, our papers may have been less than generous. Getting more comfortable with the AAR as a venue to share research rather than brandish one’s unassailable intellect or burnish one’s CV is part of this process of growing up as a scholar. And it means learning to be generous to one’s audience and seek connections across and between subfields. I learned the importance of this approach in the classroom very early on at UNC…now it’s time to practice it before a room full of scholars.
San Diego, here I come!