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Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

NME in 2003-4

From the School's Annual Report 2003-4

The largest cohort of students applying to the Department has always consisted of those wishing to learn Arabic. A number of these, motivated more by religious than linguistic interests, have found their language-learning skills challenged by the demands of the department's intensive four-year Arabic programme. And so, to cater for the needs of this type of recruit, a new multidisciplinary three-year degree was introduced in 2003-04: BA Arabic Cultural Studies.

Professor Sabry Hafez was invited to be one of the professors at the Summer Academy of the Wissenschaftskolleg of Berlin, which was held in Alexandria with the local Swedish Institute. He has also been asked to rejoin the AHRB's panel for modern languages. Mr Gavin Picken joined the Arabic section as Lecturer in Islamic Studies, whilst Professor Elsaid Badawi, Zaki Yamani Research Fellow, took leave of the Department's Centre of Islamic Studies. Others departing were Dr Serpil Bagci (Atatürk Fellow in Turkish Studies), and Dr Enrico Morano, who had taken over the teaching of Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams (Iranian Languages) during the latter's Leverhulme-funded research leave.

The year saw Professor Sims-Williams retire early as a full-time teaching member of staff to be reincarnated as the School's first Research Professor. He also became chairman of the Linguistics and Philology Section (H4) at the British Academy. Furthermore, he secured an award of £370,797 from the AHRB for his project on Bactrian Chronology.

In the Hebrew section Dr Tudor Parfitt was promoted to Professor of Modern Jewish Studies, and secured a grant of £110,846 from the AHRB for his project on the Representation of the Jews/Zionism in Pakistan/Indian Muslim Discourse. His new research-assistant is Dr Suseela Yesudian-Storfjell.

The Persian section's two main events of the year were the inauguration of the first SOAS-Cambridge Persian Study-Day, organised by Narguess Farzad and sponsored by the Iran Heritage Foundation, and another very successful and popular celebration of the Persian New Year. The SOAS-Cambridge Study Day aims to give the undergraduates in Persian at both of these institutions, who generally pursue their studies in relative isolation and rarely meet any specialists in the fields of Iranian Studies outside their own faculty, an opportunity to spend a day with their peer-groups to exchange ideas, discuss their learning experiences and also to benefit from the different expertise available at the two universities. The first Study Day was convened on 5 March; sixteen second and third-year students of Persian at SOAS and two members of staff (Narguess Farzad and Sorour Dundon) were joined by eleven students and two members of staff from the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Cambridge . The group took part in a full day of programmes including sessions on language-training, a poetry-workshop and an informal lecture by guest-speaker Mehdi Jami, a journalist and film maker, who discussed (in Persian) his documentary, Charkh-o-Falak, which follows the life of a legendary Tajik singer and generally gives an enchanting insight into the survival of Persian culture in Tajikistan. The evening concluded with dinner at an Iranian restaurant. A visit to Cambridge is planned for late November 2004.

The cultural highlight of the Persian section's year was the New Year celebration, which took place at the Brunei Gallery. The event was sponsored by the MTO College as well as by several individuals. Many of our students joined the students of the MTO college to entertain the capacity crowd with an evening of music, songs, dance and poetry. A full traditional Norouz dinner was served; during the intervals the audience could browse through book-stalls and watch demonstrations of calligraphy and illumination.

Professor George Hewitt (Caucasian languages) was invited to participate in the workshop on Complementation held at La Trobe University (Melbourne) 16-21 August, where he read a paper on the relevant structures in Abkhaz. He was awarded Abkhazia's highest decoration (Order of Honour and Glory) for his contribution to Abkhaz studies.

Professor Andrew George (Ancient Near East) rounded off his much appreciated term as Head of Department by visiting Australia to present the keynote-address at a conference on Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria, sponsored by the University of Sydney's Department of Classics and Ancient History (July 21-23).

The year's publications include:

Longman Anthology of World Literature (contributions on Arabic and Islamic literatures edited by Sabry Hafez and others).

Central Asian Survey volume 22.4 was based on papers delivered on 22 November 2002 at SOAS' conference "Chechnya Today", organised by George Hewitt, who also guest-edited this special edition of the journal.