[R5852] The Power of Bodies and Bones: Revisiting Death and Dying in the Middle East

Created by Elyse Semerdjian
Thursday, 10/08/20 11:00 am


Death studies momentarily, yet notably flourished in the 1970s-1980s. A novel approach to European/North American modern death emerged, yet this historiographical development did not extend to the Middle East until recently where scholars have primarily relied on the frameworks inherited from Western studies. Furthermore, most of these studies were concerned with ancient history, theology, and religious rituals, rather than modern attitudes towards death and dying. In contrast, this roundtable will facilitate a discussion around the power of bodies and bones in the modern/contemporary Middle East introducing new frameworks of analysis. Participants and audience members will discuss a range of topics including historiography; social death; the materiality of the body; (trans)national belonging; necro/biopolitics; beliefs and practices ; judicial bodies; and the gendering of death. The roundtable represents varied geographical and topical settings ranging from military conflict, genocide, diasporic and settler culture, imperial policy, to nationalism.

A series of short presentations followed by interactive discussion will show how funerary/mortuary discourses and practices simultaneously reveal and negate national, communal, and gendered/sexual belonging. An overview of the state of death studies and its cross-pollination within and outside Middle East Studies will illustrate global and interdisciplinary approaches. Four presentations offer case studies grounded in archival and ethnographic research. In Egypt, death and sites of death held the key to creating, maintaining, and challenging empire in the Middle East during the transition from British colony to statehood. Palestinian women’s reproductive experiences in British mandate Palestine, illustrating how metrics and eugenics informed British calculations of Palestinian birth and mortality rates. Coffin design and caring for the dead in Turkey not only represent the deceased in gendered ways, but also determine who can touch and gaze upon the dead. The roundtable will close with the case of the uninterred bones of Armenian Genocide victims in Dayr al-Zur whose remains are handled and collected by pilgrims in a largely unmarked site. An open discussion will follow with audience members focusing on the following questions: How can we develop frameworks that account for the region’s historical (and other) specificities while inviting cross pollination? What sources are available for the study of death/funerary practices? What are some of the challenges to translating the largely Eurocentric and heteronormative field of death studies into non-western contexts? How can decentering, globalizing, de-segmenting, and queering death upturn normative, hegemonic understandings of death and caring for the dead?






Frances S. Hasso

(Duke University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Elyse Semerdjian

(Whitman College)
Elyse Semerdjian is Professor of Islamic World/Middle Eastern history at Whitman College. She received her M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and her Ph.D. in History from Georgetown University. A specialist in the...
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Organizer; Presenter;