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

NME in 2005-6

From the School's Annual Report

The Department was fortunate to secure Dr. Daniel Schwemer of Würzburg as replacement for Prof. David Hawkins FBA. Dr. Schwemer took up a new lectureship in Ancient Near Eastern Studies, partly funded by the Mellon Foundation. The other new member of staff welcomed by the Department was Dr. Nada Elzeer, who joined us from Durham to take up a lectorship in Arabic.

The promotion-round saw Dr. Colin Shindler appointed to Reader in Israeli and Modern Jewish Studies. In July Prof. Andrew George was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in recognition of his achievements in Assyriology.

The year saw the Xth Annual General Meeting of the London Centre for the Ancient Near East, an intercollegiate and extramural society that runs a regular seminar-series in partnership with the Department and raises the profile of SOAS as an important centre for the study of the ancient world.

For the three summer months the Department was host to Dr. Takayoshi Oshima of Bucharest.

Dr. Oshima was one of only about 35 foreign scholars invited to Britain in 2006 under the new British Academy Visiting Fellowships scheme. He used the visit to continue his study of Babylonian religious literature in the British Museum.

The student numbers in the Persian section, for both the single- and joint-honours degrees, are on the increase, and the Elementary Persian language-floater continues to attract many students from our sister-faculties as well as from other language-sections within the Languages & Cultures Faculty.

The Persian New Year was, once again, lavishly and successfully celebrated in March, thanks to the generous financial support of the MTO College.

This summer SOAS was the venue of the VIth Biennial Conference on Iranian Studies, held for the first time outside the United States.

More than three hundred papers were presented during the three-day event, and Dr. Nima Mina and Miss Narguess Farzad, staff of the Persian section of the department, as well as several postgraduate students, were closely involved in the organisation of the conference and either presented papers, convened sessions or acted as discussants on various panels. The section felt it a privilege also to provide an outlet for several major voices in contemporary Persian literature who attended the conference, including Simin Behbahani and Mahshid Amirshahi.

Congratulations are due to Jason Elliot, an alumnus in Persian, on the successful publication of his second best-selling travel-book entitled Mirrors of The Unseen: Journeys in Iran. The book, published in May by Picador, has had rave reviews, and its release is a timely reminder of some features of Iranian history, culture and identity that are not often portrayed in current media-coverage.

François de Blois, who is working on a research project with Research Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams FBA, was jointly awarded the Iranian Book of the Year prize for his Persian Literature, a bio-bibliographical survey, V: Poetry of the pre-Mongol period (revised edition, 2004) and was invited to Iran to receive the prize from President Ahmadinejad himself. Meanwhile, Dr. Shirin Akiner, the Department's specialist on Central Asia, was awarded the Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal by the Royal Society for Asian Affairs on 14 June 2006, thereby joining a list of distinguished recipients which includes such former luminaries of the Department as Prof. Ann Lambton FBA and the late Dr. Mary Boyce.

The BA in Arabic & Islamic Studies was expanded by the approval of a new course The Muslim world: unity in diversity, to be taught from September 2006. Prof. Muhammad Abdel Haleem was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Islamic Studies in June by the University of Jordan; he also went on a lecture-tour of S.E. Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Brunei). There was an enthusiastic reception, especially in the Philippines, and the opportunity was taken to give an interview on Philippines Radio on Inter-Religious Tolerance.

Prof. Kamal Abu-Deeb’s work was honoured and celebrated in April over four days by the Ministry of Culture in Yemen, which included a poetry-festival of young Arab poets, attended by some 350 participants, and he was awarded a medal in the name of the poets concerned. He appeared on the al-Jazeera channel in February with Elias Khoury to discuass his novel Bab al-Shams on the occasion of its publication in an English translation. A significant theoretical part of his Leverhulme-funded research project was published in Thaqafat (University of Bahrain, 2006) under the title Feminism and postmodernism.

Prof. George Hewitt FBA and Head of Department organised a day's conference in November entitled Chechnya: after Maskhadov, jointly for the charity Medical Aid and Relief for the Children of Chechnya (MARCCH) and the School's Centre for the Contemporary Central Asia and Caucasus. It was addressed by Lords Rea and Judd, as well as by noted leader-in-exile Ahmed Zakaev and prominent Chechen advocate Vanessa Redgrave, who presented a powerful film on the plight of the Chechens made by her son, Carlo Nero. In June he presented a paper on the peoples of western Transcaucasia at a conference on Research and Identity: the non-Russian Peoples of the Russian Empire 1800-1855‚ in Kouvola (Finland).

Professor Elsaid Badawi rejoined the Centre of Islamic Studies in January 2005 to work with Prof. Abdel Haleem on the Dictionary of Qur'anic Usage, which is now almost ready for publication by Brill.

In November 2005 participants came to SOAS from Australia, South East Asia, the Middle East, Europe (Eastern and Western) and the USA for the Centre of Islamic Studies‚ IVth biennial conference on The Qur'an: Text, Interpretation and Translation. Selected papers from this conference are being published in the Journal of Qur'anic Studies.

Selected publications

The Hanbali School of Law and Ibn Taymiyyah: Conflict or Conciliation, Routledge-Curzon, 2006, by Abdul Hakim al-Matroudi.

The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right, I.B. Tauris, 2006, by Colin Shindler.

The syntax of complementation in Abkhaz, in Iran and the Caucasus, 9.2, 332-379, 2005, by George Hewitt.

Genetics, Mass Media, and Identity: A Case Study of the Genetic Research on the Lemba, by Tudor Parfitt and Yulia Egorova. London: Routledge