Awards 2014

Conferred at the Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.:

2014 PhD Dissertation Award

The Association for Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Studies (AGAPS) is pleased to present its 2014 PhD Dissertation Award to Michael Farquhar for his exceptional scholarship in Expanding the Wahhabi Mission: Saudi Arabia, the Islamic University of Medina and the Transnational Religious Economy" (Department of Government, The London School of Economics, 2014; supervised by John Chalcraft).

Expanding the Wahhabi Mission is a richly detailed study of the Islamic University of Medina (IUM) and its missionary project with the goal of challenging the essentializing notion that Saudi Arabia engages in the linear exportation of a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Farquhar starts with a discussion of the context of the founding of the university in the Hejaz, and its development as an arm of the Saudi state and of the Saudi ruling family. At the heart of the dissertation, he provides a fascinating discussion of the transnational religious economies of the IUM, which he understands as the flows (within and across borders) of people, material capital, spiritual resources, and techniques of social organization. Farquhar sheds light on the articulation between financial resources and proselytism, showing both the power of oil rents and the limits of their influence.

The committee was struck by several outstanding characteristics of the dissertation. It is elegantly written, in the voice of a mature scholar. Farquhar draws on a very wide variety of primary sources in researching the dissertation, providing an excellent example of how sources of multiple types, used together, can provide a rich and deep understanding of a scholarly question. Most striking of all is how the reader comes away from the work with a profoundly deeper, complex and contextualized understanding of Saudi efforts to expand across borders, the influence of a Wahhabi mode of Islamic religiosity, and the ways in which this has sometimes been contested –– even by those who have studied and taught at IUM. Expanding the Wahhabi Mission is a superb work of scholarship and is a deserving recipient of the 2014 AGAPS PhD Dissertation Award.

2014 Graduate Paper Prize

The Association for Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Studies (AGAPS) is pleased to present its 2014 Graduate Paper Prize to Laura Goffman for her outstanding work on “Militarized Spaces of Modernity in Oman’s Dhufar Revolution (1965–1976)” (MA seminar paper, Department of History, Georgetown University, 2013; advisor: Judith Tucker).

Goffman’s chosen topic is original and bold in both its focus and approach. The Dhufar’s revolution remains a sensitive question in the national history of the Sultanate of Oman and this work is a significant contribution to the recent scholarly writing of its history. Through the analysis of the militarization of political participation and gendered identities during the war, Goffman masterly shows how the revolutionaries created and imagined spaces of modernity that connect them to the broader regional and international liberationist projects.

This revolutionary discourse on modernity competed with official sources (both Omani and British) as shown in the three perspectives of Arabic sources: one revolutionary document, one sympathetic observer and one counter-insurgency agent. Goffman skillfully weaves these sources into her detailed and nuanced analysis. Carrying weapons was not only a necessary way to fight but also a symbolic entry into the polity and participatory politics, and a link to other liberation struggles. Including women in the enactment of violence was part and parcel of the modernization project that reformulated local gender relations and merged them into equal citizenship. Yet Goffman never loses sight of the complexity of such a voluntarist program, as women are always seen through a male lens. This is reminiscent of the famous novel by Sonallah Ibrahim on the figure of Warda which contributed to the perpetuation the iconic and desirable figure of the female combatant.

This research makes a valuable contribution to the field of history and women in the Middle East not only by shedding light on an under researched topic but also by raising important questions around the link between militarization, politics and identity, as well as the symbolic use of iconic arms in asymmetrical wars and the meaning of women carrying them -– or not –– with regard to prevailing standards of modernity. Wonderfully written, this work deserves the praise of the committee.