This year, the IRCPL awarded fellowships to graduate students at Columbia University to travel abroad or within the United States to conduct research on their dissertations. The fellowship provides each student $4000 to cover expenses directly related to research, including, travel, lodging and materials, during the Summer 2013 or Fall 2013 semester. Upon returning from their travel, students will make oral presentations on the results of their research.
2013-2014 Graduate Fellows:
Tolga Kobas is a Paul F. Lazarsfeld fellow and a PhD candidate at the Columbia University’s Department of Sociology. He has B.A. and M.A. degrees from Sabanci University in Political Science. He is currently in the process of doing archival work for his dissertation in Istanbul. His research investigates how the Ottomans consolidated patrimonial sources and means of power with the needs and requirements of a legal-rational bureaucracy.
In classical sociology we have grown accustomed to take two diverse sources of domination as ideal-typical opposites, with sources and means of power existing in a polarized relationship. Tolga proposes that the Ottoman state managed to fuse the two in such a way that they not only worked together harmoniously and empowered one another; but they also provided the state with a powerful and lasting administrative center that contributed to the longevity and resilience of the Ottoman Empire. In this complex process, Tolga’s work focuses on the role played by a grand tradition: Adab. Adab is a concept with many applications and shades of meaning. It has two interrelated components: a literary aspect and a socio-ethical one. The socio-ethical component is primary and ‘active’, where adab designates a wide range of social and ethical virtues, like good manners, tact, grace, indulgence towards friends, refined taste, courage, erudition and literary skill. The literary aspect is secondary and ‘passive’, where adab signifies literary production and scholarship that deal with or have connections to these socio-ethical subjects. Currently, Tolga is working at the Ottoman archives in Istanbul, analyzing historical documents that could provide significant insights into the role and function of the Adab tradition on the Ottoman patrimonial and bureaucratic state mechanisms.
Laura McTighe is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. Her research centers on lived religion, migration, and well-being, informed by an anthropology of social suffering and structural injustice. She is particularly interested in how these themes are negotiated and subverted by formerly incarcerated and convicted people’s movements in the United States. Laura’s research has unfolded in consistent conversation with her more than fifteen years of work to support community-led responses to the twin epidemics of mass imprisonment and HIV/AIDS. She earned her M.T.S. in Islamic Studies from Harvard Divinity School in 2008, and her B.A. in Religion and Peace & Conflict Studies from Haverford College in 2000. Her writings have been published in Islam and AIDS: Between Scorn, Pity and Justice (2009), the International Journal for Law and Psychiatry (2011), Beyond Walls and Cages: Bridging Immigrant Justice and Anti-Prison Organizing in the United States (2012) and a variety of community publications.
Though the United States’ prison system ostensibly punishes crime and promotes rehabilitation, the explosion of the prison population in the past four decades has produced a level of social dislocation akin to a permanent refugee crisis. Within the communities hardest hit by mass incarceration, religious language, often buttressed by human rights talk, increasingly provides a grammar for bearing witness to the mass disappearance and reappearance of residents, and for imagining a more just justice system. Through multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, Laura’s dissertation will explore the role of formerly incarcerated people’s movements in engendering processes of social healing and transformation in a time when more than seven million people – one in thirty-one Americans – are in prison, on probation or on parole. By engaging religion as a critical focus of inquiry in challenging what has practically become a system of racial apartheid, and by remaining responsive to formerly incarcerated people’s movements own strategic deployment of human rights talk alongside religious language, her dissertation troubles the traditional opposition between religiously spirited punishment and secular movements to address the human rights abuses of the carceral state. In so doing, she aims to illuminate innovative approaches to the crisis of mass incarceration that are already unfolding within the communities, thereby furthering the meaningful conversations and collaborations that are essential for bringing a lasting reduction to the United States’ dependence on incarceration. During her IRCPL Research Fellowship term, Laura will be undertaking foundational fieldwork with Women With A Vision, Inc. (WWAV) in New Orleans, which will be integral to her dissertation.
Ana Méndez-Oliver is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia. She holds a B.A. in Modern Languages and a M.A. in Comparative Literature from University of Puerto Rico and M.A. in Spanish and Portuguese from Columbia University. She has published “Orbecche y los tratados neo-clásicos de Giambattista Giraldi Cinthio” and “El metadiscurso forense en La fuerza de la sangre de Miguel de Cervantes” in Ficciones legales. More recently, she collaborated in Layman Poupard Publishers forthcoming volume, Literary Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Her research interests include French, Italian and Spanish Medieval and Early Modern literature and cultural productions, mysticism and hagiographical literature, Early Modern printing productions, and literary theory.
At the moment, Ana Méndez-Oliver is working on her dissertation entitled Frontier Identities and Migrating Souls: Re-conceptualizing New Religious and Cultural Imaginaries in the Iberian Worlds, where she examines representations of hybridity, in word and image, of frontier or liminal identities (Jewish, Muslim, converso, and mestizo) from both a trans-disciplinary and trans-Atlantic optic in little studied, but still significant and important, works in their time, some of which have never been transcribed into modern English or Spanish. With the IRCPL Graduate Fellowship, she is going to be conducting research this summer in France and Spain on manuscripts and printed editions in sixteenth century official works promulgated by the monarchy and the Church, as well as some written by moriscos and mestizos which represent religious and cultural hybridity. In these texts, she will explore how the marginal spaces in which these minority communities were situated became a creative space of resistance and/or alternative ways of incorporating themselves into Spain’s national project.
Rafal Stepien is the inaugural Cihui Foundation Faculty Fellow in Chinese Buddhist Studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. Prior to undertaking his doctoral studies at Columbia, Rafal gained degrees from the Universities of Western Australia (B.A., English & Philosophy), Oxford (B.A. & M.A., Chinese), and Cambridge (M.Phil., Persian). He has also spent significant periods studying and researching at Bologna, Esfehan, Damascus, and Peking Universities, as well as at Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Monastery in Taiwan. In addition to these studies, he spent over two years working as a Persian Interpreter with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan. Rafal’s research has been funded by numerous awards, including fellowships from the Mellon and Soudavar Memorial Foundations, British Institute of Persian Studies, Weatherhead East Asian Institute, and Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies. He has published articles on both Buddhist and Islamic literature in several peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes.
Entitled ‘The Unity Between: Ways of Saying and Silence in Buddhism and Islam’, my doctoral dissertation investigates the philosophical limits of literary self-expression in the Buddhist and Islamic traditions. Through close textual analysis in the primary languages of Sanskrit, Chinese, Arabic, and Persian, I examine the philosophical links and, more pointedly, the specific discursive strategies used both by Buddhist thinkers such as Nagarjuna (c. 150-250) and Linji Yixuan (d. 866), founders of the Madhyamaka school and the Linji Chan order respectively, and by Islamic writers such as Ibn al-‘Arabi (1165-1240) and Mawlana Rumi (1207-1272), exponents of the Arabic philosophical and Persian poetic approaches to Sufism respectively. In reflecting upon the relation between the definite and the infinite (however these may be conceived), Nagarjuna, Linji, Ibn al-‘Arabi and Rumi all adopt apophatic discursive strategies, whereby they speak through negation, paradox, or silence rather than through kataphatic affirmation, logical demonstration, or doctrinal proclamation. In focusing on these varied attempts to express avowedly inexpressible insights, I hope to demonstrate that Buddhism and Islam, far from being incommensurably opposed, exhibit deep affinities both in their understandings of certain foundational beliefs, and in the discursive devices employed by some of their most eloquent exponents. Having already conducted research for this project at various repositories in China, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom, I plan to use the IRCPL Graduate Research Fellowship to explore the resources available in Iran. The material I intend to gather there is primarily to be found in Tehran at the National Library, Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia and at the University of Tehran. Together, these constitute the greatest concentration of scholarly material in the country; their sources, almost completely unknown to Western academics, will be made available to them through my research for the first time. I would also visit the Global Center for Islamic Sciences in the holy city of Qum so as to gain access to the madrassas at which Iranian religious scholars study the works of Sufis such as Mawlana Rumi and Ibn al-‘Arabi.