2023 Spring

Middle East Center Newsletter


As the end of the 2022-23 academic year comes to a close, so too does my tenure as the Director of the University of Washington’s Middle East Center (MEC). During the past eight years, I have been tremendously honored to work with an amazing community of scholars, students, and staff, not to mention a dedicated and erudite public that has shown a sustained interest in learning about the richness and complexity of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). I have also had the privilege of representing the University of Washington’s MEC in national meetings and conferences.

The MENA region is the epicenter of some of most significant global concerns of our time – from forced migration to climate catastrophe; revolutionary movements to international sanctions; historic international accords to humanitarian interventions. We, at the MEC, have covered it all. Along the way, we have had our own UW experts weigh in on key regional developments with their innovative research. Renowned experts we have invited have shed light on important concerns, as well as US interests in the region.

We have supported students from diverse backgrounds gain expertise in the languages, politics, and cultures of the region and have found ways to encourage interest in studying the region, despite the challenges of obtaining visas and funding students in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Our efforts have paid off in spades as our students have moved on to important positions as Middle East experts and advisors, educators, and scholars and researchers.

Over the years, we have had the privilege of supporting faculty development in the teaching of critical languages, developing new courses, or working through new research projects and papers. Finally, we have had the tremendous opportunity to educate the residents of Washington State about the MENA and helped develop both interest and compassion through our myriad outreach efforts.

In this last newsletter of my time as MEC Director, I share a lovely tribute to Professor Jere Bacharach from retired MEC Associate Director, Felicia Hecker, who describes his invaluable commitment to Middle East Studies, including the founding of the Middle East Studies Association and developing many of the MENA programs and centers that now serve our UW community. We also highlight some of the awesome activities and achievements of our students. And below you will find links to podcasts of the MEC’s terrific experts over the year.

I look forward to passing the directorship to a new leader, with a fresh vision, who will, nonetheless, continue shining a light on this tremendously important region of the world.

All best wishes,

Arzoo Osanloo
Director, Middle East Center
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies


In Memoriam: Jere Bacharach

By Felicia Hecker | Retired, Associate Director, Middle East Center, University of Washington

Jere L. Bacharach, Professor Emeritus, Department of History and Stanley D. Golub Professor Emeritus of International Studies,scholar of the medieval Middle East, inspiring teacher, colleague, friend, and mentor to many, died April 9, 2023 at the age of 84.

Jere Bacharach

Jere Bacharach

Jere Bacharach received his B.A. from Trinity College (CT), his M.A. from Harvard University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. His lifelong dedication to Middle East and Islamic history began in the fall of 1958 when he did his junior year abroad at Edinburgh University. There he took his first course on Islamic history, which proved to be a pivotal moment in his life and one that he later reflected on saying, “I became so turned on by the subject that I decided to make Islamic history a life’s pursuit and I am pleased I did.”[1]

Jere’s passion for the field would carry through a remarkably productive fifty-five-year career of scholarly work and administrative leadership at the University of Washington. Jere was hired in 1968 by then Chair of the Department of History, the eminent scholar of Southeast European history, Peter Sugar.[2] From the beginning of his career, Jere was filled with enthusiasm for the field, his research, his colleagues and his students. The incandescent enthusiasm and warm encouragement he offered so generously to all was a unique quality that propelled both his own success as a scholar and administrator and the success of many others as well.

Although Jere’s interest and expertise in the Middle East spanned a wide range from Islamic art and architecture to medieval archaeology of Cairo, he was probably best known for his research on numismatics of the Arab world—a subject he was writing about and publishing on well into his retirement. From 1966 to 2007 Jere published almost forty books, articles, and catalogues on the subject of coinage and numismatics in the Islamic world. His work in numismatics opened new avenues for understanding the politics and society of medieval Egypt and beyond. Recognizing his contributions, Oxford University named Jere the Samir Shama Fellow in Islamic Numismatics and Epigraphy in 2004.

Jere’s commitment to the field of Middle East studies and to strengthening the professional organizations that underpinned research and scholarship he cared about was unequaled. From 1978 to 1992 he served as the Editor of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Bulletin, and was elected President of MESA serving from 1999-2000. He also was elected president of the Middle East Medievalist (1997-2000, and 2003-6), and served on the Board of Directors of American Research Center in Egypt and American Numismatics Society to name just a few. The remarkable extent of Jere’s service to so many organizations was recognized by MESA in 2004 when the organization renamed its service award in honor commending  “his extraordinary service to MESA, many of her sister societies, and the field overall.”

Of all his talents, Jere perhaps most enjoyed his role as a teacher and mentor. A consummate speaker, Jere could easily hold the attention of undergraduates in large survey classes, advanced graduate students in small seminars, or even local business people at downtown lunches. He relished teaching and mentoring, which came naturally to him though he always credited his thesis advisor at Trinity College, Philip Kittler, whom he said was, “exceptional in demonstrating how to work with students as individuals.”[3]  Jere’s own engaging style as a teacher was fortified by the very solid academic training he received from his own mentors: W. Montgomery Watt, author of numerous books on the Prophet Muhammad and early Islam and his Ph.D. supervisor, Middle East historian, and lifelong friend Andrew S. Ehrenkreutz.[4]

Beyond research and teaching, Jere excelled as an administrator in higher education. His generous personality and invariably positive outlook always brought people together, even when that seemed impossible. During his years at the University of Washington, he served in many leadership roles including: the Director of the Jackson School’s Middle East Center, 1982-1995; Chair of the Department of History, 1987-92; Founder and Chair of the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies, 1992-2000; and Director of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, 1995-2001. He established the Jere L. Bacharach Endowed Chair in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Jere L. Bacharach Fund in the Middle East Center.

Jere retired from the University of Washington in 2004 as the Stanley D. Golub Professor Emeritus of International Studies and Professor Emeritus, Department of History. Jere’s legacy continues through his scholarship and through the many students, staff, faculty and colleagues whom he so generously encouraged, guided, and promoted over his long career at the University of Washington.


[1] Middle East Center Newsletter (2004): 29.2.

[2] Jere enjoyed telling the story of how he was hired: He was a newly minted, unemployed Ph.D. sitting in a delicatessen near the University of Michigan campus contemplating his future, when he struck up a conversation with the person at the next table, who happened to be Peter Sugar, in town to give a lecture.  When Sugar discovered Jere was a young Middle East historian looking for a job, he invited him to interview for a position in the History Department at UW, which led immediately to Jere’s first, and lifelong, academic appointment.

[3]Middle East Center Newsletter (2004): 29.2.

[4] Middle East Center Newsletter (2004): 29.2.

2022-23 MENA Graduate Student Conference

On Friday, May 12, 2023 the Middle East Center hosted the MENA Graduate Student Conference at the University of Washington showcasing the depth and diversity of ongoing research on the region. This event was co-sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Near Middle Eastern Studies PhD program. We would like to extend our gratitude to the panelists and attendees for making this a successful conference!

Cover of the 2023 MENA Graduate Student Conference Program

Cover of the 2023 MENA Graduate Student Conference Program

Panel 1 

What Remains? Flesh and Bone in the Levantine Conceptions of Death and the Afterlife – Elizabeth M. Forage, MAIS – Comparative Religion

More and more scholars of the ancient Near East are attending to the material reality of the corpse and its meaningfulness for reconstructing funerary sequences. The present paper focuses on three separate instances of secondary burial practices in the ancient Middle East, putting the archaeological record in conversation with textual evidence from the Levant and Mesopotamia. Through consideration of what remains – flesh and bone – and their importance in ancient Near Eastern cosmologies, I argue that the attachment of a surviving non corporeal ‘ghost/spirit’ of the dead to its material fate is at the root of the practice of carefully controlled decomposition in the secondary burials of Qatna, Tel Megiddo, and the bench tombs of Southern Judah.

“In Disagreement Against the Shekhina”: Disputes and Transformations in the Religious World of Early Modern Ottoman Jews – Elyakim Suissa

Before the seventeenth century it would be ahistorical to speak of a united “Ottoman Jewish” identity with a shared sense of cultural belonging. By the seventeenth century, however, several transformations occurred that facilitated a stronger shared Ottoman Jewish network. These transformations included an increased movement across congregational boundaries and a changing relationship between Jews and the Ottoman state. The paths to these changes were not straightforward, and disputes and arguments frequently occurred in social and religious spaces such as the synagogue. By analyzing historical responsa, I argue that members of the rabbinic elite in Istanbul and Salonican Jewish communities used such disputes to consolidate and maintain rabbinic authority in the face of a changing socio-religious environment. The responsa source material, written in Hebrew with queries answered by a communal chief rabbi, are particularly useful for understanding relationships between congregants and rabbis, who used their status to strengthen their authority.

Panel 2

Is there a Sinamayeh Sevom?: Iran and Third CinemaCaro Reed-Ferrara, Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures

After its rise in Latin America in the 1960s-1970s, the Third Cinema movement spread rapidly throughout a majority of the postcolonial world. Filmmakers across Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East produced films that explicitly aligned with the central tenets of Gentino and Solanas’ manifesto Towards a Third Cinema. However, there is a notable absence of Iranian films in the Third Cinema canon. Some scholars have argued that cinema made in resistance to the Islamic Republic can be considered adjacent to the Third Cinema Movement. However, this paper differentiates between the taxonomies of post-colonial and resistance cinema through a historical lens, looking at both the late Pahlavi era and the early years of the Revolution of 1979, attempting to understand and evaluate the surprising scarcity of a specifically postcolonial and anti-imperialist cinema in Iranian film.

Genre Fluidity in the ‘First’ Persian Short Story – Anna Learn, Interdisciplinary Near & Middle Eastern Studies Program

It is a common adage in accounts of Persian literary history that the ‘modern’ era began with the publication of Mohammad-Ali Jamālzādeh’s short story collection Yeki bud yeki nabud (Once upon a time) in 1922. This “renaissance in Persian letters,” (Rahimieh, 2017, 44), as Jamālzādeh envisioned it in his preface to the book, was intended to take place primarily through the genre of the romān (novel). But while Jamālzādeh’s preface advocated for the development of the novel genre in Persian, Yeki bud yeki nabud was a collection of short stories. Although most Persian literary scholarship has glossed over this dissonance in genre, this paper instead asks why that genre discrepancy might exist for Persian literary history. To that end, this paper examines the initial publication of “Fārsi shekar ast,” Jamālzādeh’s first printed short story, arguing that paying particular attention to the emergence of the short story genre can open up alternate, less Eurocentric modes of framing ‘modern’ Persian literary history.

Panel 3 

Resistance Resurrected: Political Spaces of Refugees in Turkey and the EU – Ahmed Erdogan, MAIS – International Studies

It has been traditional to read refugees as persons of emergency and exception, with biases that presuppose invisibility, victimization, and weakness. The latest Syrian refugee displacement due to the Syrian civil war has been another expression of these biases. Yet, this exact displacement of the refugees, and their respective spaces, had also been the protest against those biases in which resistance over the right to life and governance took place. There is, therefore, this need to retrain what has hitherto been a discussion of weakness in the “spaces of refugees; the need to move away from conceiving refugees merely as persons of weakness subjected to control and violence. In this view, this paper explores how the EU and Turkey govern Syrian refugees, and how refugees creatively resist, and argues that refugees carve out their own political spaces where they self-govern and resist for their existence, changing the perception of refugees from victims to agents.

Law, Religion & National Identity: Creating Space for the Grand Mosque of Paris and the Athens Mosque – Emma C. Delapré, Center for West European Studies | European Union Center

Although France and Greece are largely classified, in legal terms, as secular nations to varying degrees, the relationship between church and state has deep roots. Provisions in both constitutions regulate the relationship between church and state. Both EU member states are heavily influenced by these strong cultural and religious traditions – Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy respectively. The second-largest religion in both France and Greece, however, is Islam with practitioners predominantly residing within metropolitan areas. Both states have been criticized for their slow implementation of measures and policies intended to facilitate the religious expression of minority religions. By examining the problems surrounding the Grand Mosque of Paris and the Athens New Mosque, this paper will compare the implications and effects of the legal provisions currently defining the relationship between church and state in these nations. The analysis will rely on primary sources including their respective constitutions and laws, and secondary literature, finding that the creation and continued operation of these mosques act as a proxy for identity politics despite the constitutional separation of religion and government.


By Emma C. Delapré | University of Washington 

Maral Sahebjame is a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Near Middle Eastern Studies PhD program and a graduate fellow in the Department of Law, Societies, and Justice at the University of Washington. Her research focus and interests include gender in the Middle East and Muslim-majority societies, ethnography, social movements, and state, law, and society relations in contemporary Iran. 

Maral Sahebjame

Maral Sahebjame

In the interview below, Sahebjame describes her journey at the University of Washington.

How did you find your dissertation topic, what drew you to it?

Prior to coming to the University of Washington, in fulfilling the requirements for my MA degree I wrote a thesis that examined marriage attitudes and practices of young Iranians. My annual family trips to Iran informed that topic as I observed a growing intergenerational concern for both marriage postponement and a rising divorce rate. In that project I got to experience conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Iran for the first time and realized that there is so much more to explore for which I would have to return. Several years later, when I was contemplating dissertation topics, “white marriages,” or cohabitation, were gradually gaining attention in Iranian state media. This piqued my interest as it marked the emergence of a new practice that called into question the institution of marriage. As I collected data on this topic, I was drawn to it more each day as I came to learn the interconnectedness of white marriage to so many other institutions and actors.

What are your post-graduate plans? 

After graduating I will begin a 3-year position as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University’s Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies. At the center, I will conduct follow-up research on my dissertation topic and develop my doctoral dissertation into a manuscript for publication.

What aspects of your research do you find most rewarding? 

I find doing ethnographic fieldwork in Iran most rewarding. I love spending time with people, learning about their life stories and the ways in which they make life livable in a country about which much of the world knows very little. I also love when I am in the middle of a lecture for a course either in the Law, Societies, and Justice or Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures departments and I recall a relevant anecdote from my fieldwork. I notice an expression of increased focus and attention to my lecture when I share these stories. That is what makes my research invaluable.

Do you have any advice for students who are interested in following your academic path? 

Do not lose faith in the value of your work. It is easy to get discouraged by rejection letters and the daunting writing process in completing your dissertation. You have made it this far because you have something to say that the world needs to hear.


The Middle East Center is pleased to introduce its new podcast series, now available on Soundcloud. We will be producing podcasts of our many events so that you can enjoy MEC lectures on the go. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe! You’ll never need to miss a Middle East Center talk again. Take a look at some of the most recent podcasts below.

Social Change Through Presence: White Marriage in Iran

The Middle East Center presents “Social Change Through Presence: White Marriage in Iran” on February 13, 2023, a talk by Maral Sahebjame(graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Near and Middle Eastern Studies PhD program and a graduate fellow in the Department of Law, Societies, and Justice at the University of Washington).

Why did the Earthquake Happen & Why was it so Destructive: A Geologic Perspective on Turkey’s Major Earthquake Zones

The Middle East Center presents “Why did the Earthquake Happen & Why was it so Destructive: A Geologic Perspective on Turkey’s Major Earthquake Zones” on March 2, 2023, a talk by Scott L. Montgomery (Geoscientist and Lecturer, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, Affiliate Faculty, Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington). This lecture was part of a panel titled Shocks & Aftershocks of the Turkey-Syria Earthquake held on March 2, 2023 at the University of Washington.

One Man, Many Disasters: What is Next For Turkey?

The Middle East Center presents “One Man, Many Disasters: What is Next For Turkey?” on March 2, 2023, a talk by Reşat Kasaba (Professor & former Director, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington). This lecture was part of a panel titled Shocks & Aftershocks of the Turkey-Syria Earthquake held on March 2, 2023 at the University of Washington.


By Emma C. Delapré | University of Washington 

Samuel Roller is a 2nd-year MAIS – International Studies graduate student and the 2022-23 Schwartz Fellow recipient.

Samuel Roller

Samuel Roller

Below, Roller details his plans & goals for post-graduate life:

“As I prepare to spend the next eight months in Paraguay, Bolivia, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Nepal and the Philippines I hope to transform the way I think about the world and my place in it. Through travel I hope to remove many of the mediating lenses that normally color our perceptions and understanding of the broader world. I also hope to challenge myself to grow, physically, mentally, and emotionally, in order to become a more well rounded person and develop the social awareness and involvement necessary to orient my life toward public service. Overall though, by living more meaningfully and thoughfully I am excited to develop and learn in ways I could never expect.”


To maintain the Middle East Center’s leading role in advancing knowledge and understanding of the past, present, and future of the Middle East and North Africa, we count on your generous financial support.

We would be grateful if you would consider contributing to our mission by making a financial donation to the Jere L. Bacharach Middle East Studies Fund.

Your financial gift will help us organize student activities and public events at the University of Washington and beyond.

Thank you for supporting our many activities for UW students and the general public!

We look forward to seeing you at future Middle East Center events on campus and online!