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UChicago’s Middle East conference asks for papers on ‘gender and sexual emancipation’

‘How will we ever bring Drag Queen Story Hour to Raqqa’?

If you thought the Middle East had bigger problems than being insufficiently woke for progressive American academics, well, this isn’t the conference for you.

The University of Chicago’s annual Middle East History and Theory Conference is diving into gender and sexuality for this year’s theme, and it’s seeking papers related to the theme.

The keynote speaker is the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Paul Amar, author of a book on “Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism.”

Rod Dreher of The American Conservative highlighted the conference Wednesday without providing a link to it, deadpanning that “the whole world is a humanities faculty lounge!”

How will we ever bring Drag Queen Story Hour to Raqqa if we don’t do the hard work of theorizing now? Surely the people of the Nineveh Plain shouldn’t have to go one more day without knowing how to use gender-appropriate pronouns in Arabic.

The promotion for the conference is highly irregular, judging by Google search results for its official title, “35th Annual Middle East History and Theory Conference.”

Its official University of Chicago website is two years out of date, and the search result for its Dec. 10 Facebook post calling for papers “isn’t available right now” (though a cached version is briefly accessible).

The full call for papers does appear in a different Dec. 10 post timestamped 6:39 p.m., though it doesn’t come up in a Google search and may have been retroactively posted. The cached Facebook version is timestamped 11:19 a.m.

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It includes a link to what appears to be the official conference website, which is not on the UChicago domain. The LinkedIn page for UChicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies includes the same link. The conference coordinator is UChicago PhD student Omar Safadi.

The conference is seeking papers and panel ideas for “history, political science, anthropology, religious studies, geography, literary studies, philosophy, art history, and media studies” from the 6th century CE onward, as well as papers on this year’s theme, “Theorizing Gender and Sexuality in the Historic and Contemporary Middle East.”

It suggests topics including whether “history [can] serve as a reservoir of tools for contemporary revolutionary politics whose aims include gender and sexual emancipation,” what “understandings of postcolonial state-formation emerge from moving beyond scholarly claims of ‘epistemic violence’ in relation to matters of gender and sexuality,” and the ways in which “categories of gender and sexuality [are] deployed to police and regulate the boundaries of the nation.” Submissions are due Feb. 7.

A commenter on Dreher’s post says the conference theme shows that “ultimately, Muslims and conservatives must make common cause”:

How interested, do you think, is the average Muslim in the Middle East in “queer” interpretations of his history? How many are interested in “gender and sexual emancipation?”

But it doesn’t matter what those conservative Muslims want, any more than it matters what traditionalists here want; what we have, in other words, is gender and sexual imperialism, both at home and abroad.

Read the conference website and Dreher’s post.

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IMAGE: mehat2020/Wix

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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