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2012-2013

SSiMS 2012-2013 Lectures

"Evolution in Middle Eastern Education Policy: The View from Iran, Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia," by Elise K. Burton, Ph.D. candidate in Middle Eastern studies and history at Harvard University, April 24, 2013

Abstract: To date, much research on the reception and teaching of evolutionary theory in Muslim societies has assumed that religious attitudes take precedence in determining whether and how evolution is publicly accepted, rejected, or taught in schools. A corollary of these assumptions has been that countries governed on Islamic theocracy models would be more averse than "secular democracies" to including evolution within their national curricula. But are Islam and secularism always the right categories of analysis? A comparative study of science education policy in Middle Eastern states found that neither Islam as a state religion, nor the level of state religiosity, was sufficient to predict the treatment of evolution within national science curricula. These results call for a nuanced understanding of the position of science in Muslim-majority states today, and understanding that incorporates historical, political, and sociological contexts alongside theology, belief, and culture. See the paper.

BiographyElise K. Burton is a Ph.D. candidate in Middle Eastern studies and history at Harvard University. Her dissertation research examines the history of human biology research and its relationship to ethnic nationalist politics in 20th century Iran, Turkey, and Israel.

"Sound and Vision/Word and Image: Islamic Portraiture and its Many Forms," by Yael Rice, February 20, 2013

Abstract: It is a widespread misconception that the medieval and early modern arts of the Islamic lands lacked a tradition of figural depiction. In fact, illustrated manuscripts from Mosul (Iraq) to Agra (India) provide clear evidence of a rich practice of figuration, including painted portraits of authors, patrons, and other important figures. With several notable exceptions, manuscripts of histories, poetic works, biographies, and other texts nevertheless evidence a pronounced reliance upon verbal, rather than pictorial, representations of likeness. This talk will address the complex relationship between textual and pictorial portrait imagery in the book arts of Greater Iran and South Asia from the 13th through the 17th centuries, focusing in particular on the Mughal court of northern India, which saw a marked shift towards a practice of mimetic portraiture rooted in optical, sensate experiences.

BiographyYael Rice (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) specializes in the art and architecture of greater Iran and South Asia, with a particular focus on manuscripts and other portable arts of the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries. Currently the Five College Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Islamic Art at Amherst College, she previously held the position of assistant curator of Indian and Himalayan Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 2009 till 2012. Her publications include studies of European engravings and Persian calligraphic specimens in Mughal royal albums, the 1598-99 Mughal Razmnama (Book of War), and an early fifteenth-century Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami copied and illustrated in the region of Fars, Iran.

Rice's current research concerns physiognomic analysis as a courtly and artistic practice, Mughal depictions of imperial dreams, paintings made for the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707), and the cultural and material history of jade in early modern Central and South Asia.

"Why Worry? Evolution, Moral Boundary-Making, and the Right Practice in Sunni and Evangelical High Schools," Jeffrey Guhin, November 28, 2012

Abstract: Based on a year and half of ethnographic fieldwork in two Sunni Muslim and two Evangelical Christian high schools in the New York City area, this talk asks why evolution is only morally salient for the Evangelical schools, despite the fact that all four schools are institutionally committed to opposing it. To answer the question, the author proposes that communities will regard a proposition as morally threatening to the degree that it (1) challenges the practices that maintain their central narratives and (2) challenges certain boundaries set by and between the community itself and its self-identified primary antagonist. Because the practices and boundaries of the Evangelical communities are both related to a literal reading of scripture, the theory of evolution is much more threatening--and therefore morally salient--to Evangelicals. In contrast, the practices of the Sunni schools are related to prayer and the boundaries to gender performance, making evolution--even if regarded as untrue--much less threatening.

BiographyJeffrey Guhin is a doctoral candidate at Yale University in sociology. His dissertation is a comparison of two Sunni Muslim and two Evangelical Christian high schools in the New York City area, paying special attention to the roles of prayer, scripture, and science. His previous publications include "Is Irony Good for America?: The Threat of Nihilism, The Importance of Romance, and The Power of Cultural Forms" in Cultural Sociology and "The Violences of Knowledge: Edward Said, Sociology, and Post-Orientalist Reflexivity" forthcoming in Political Power and Social Theory

"What's Law Got to Do With It? Legal Issues in the Contemporary Arab World," David Mednicoff, October 17, 2012

David Mednicoff is director of Accelerated Programs for the Center for Public Policy and Administration, as well as director of Middle Eastern Studies in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Dr. Mednicoff holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. in Political Science, also from Harvard. He has a broad background in international law and politics. His research focuses on the rule of law in contemporary Arab societies and their prospects for political democratization. Dr. Mednicoff has been a Fulbright scholar in both Morocco and Qatar; other recent awards in support of his research include a grant from Georgetown University to study the regulation of migrant workers in Arab countries and a 2010-2011 (non-resident) research fellowship from the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Dr. Mednicoff is a frequent commentator in the media on issues related to politics in the Middle East, and has presented his work to policymakers in Washington at forums sponsored by the Department of State and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

"From Death Threats to Islamophobia: Making Sense of Islamic Creationism in England," by Salman Hameed, September 29, 2012

The rise of Islamic creationism has been a serious concern in England, and Europe in general. There have been reports in the media of boycotts of university evolution lectures and, in one extreme case, even a threat of violence. How widespread is the rejection of evolution amongst Muslims and how do we make sense of these public spectacles of creationism in England? While religious/theological objections are indeed at play in some cases, it is likely that the broader narrative of Muslim rejection of evolution in the U.K. may be bound up in reactions to the secular culture and in the formation of their own minority religious identity.

"The Tragedy of Science Communications Common," Dan Kahan, September 25, 2012

From climate change to the HPV vaccine to gun control, public controversy over the nature of policy-relevant science is today a conspicuous feature of democratic politics in America. A common view attributes this phenomenon to the public’s limited comprehension of science, and to its resulting vulnerability to manipulation by economically motivated purveyors of misinformation. In my talk, I will offer an alternative account. The problem, I will suggest, is not a deficit in rationality but a conflict between what’s rational at the individual and collective levels: ordinary members of the public face strong incentives--social, psychological, and economic--to conform their personal beliefs about societal risk to the positions that predominate within their cultural groups; yet when members of diverse cultural groups all form their perceptions of risk in this fashion, democratic institutions are less likely to converge on scientifically informed policies essential to the welfare of all. I will discuss empirical evidence that supports this analysis--and that suggests potential strategies for securing the collective good associated with a science communication environment free of the conflict between knowing what is known and being who we are.

 
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