Source: Center for Middle Eastern Studies Newsletter
The Center for Middle Eastern Studies hosted a one-day conference on the theme of "Iran Today" on April 26, 2008. The conference was funded by a UISFL grant awarded by the Department of Education to Rutgers CMES for the promotion of Iranian Studies. It featured some of the most prominent scholars of Iran working.
on the areas of Iranian identity, Iranian visual and dramatic arts, human rights, and international relations. The panelists were:
Ahmad Ashraf (Columbia University), Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet (University of Pennsylvania), Shouleh Vatanabadi (New York University), Majid Mohammadi (Princeton University), Mahmood Karimi Hakak (Siena College), Peter Chelkowski (New York University), Mehrangiz Kar (Wellesley College), Farhad Khosrokhavar (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris), Trita Parsi (President of the National Iranian American Council), and Hamid Zangeneh (Widener University).
The panel on Iranian identity began with Ahmad Ashraf's clear and insightful analysis of the different perspectives on Iranian national identity, which he classified into three types: romantic, postmodernist, and historical perspectives. Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet demonstrated emphatically how the notion of national identity has been affected by the changes in the borders of Iran during recent centuries. Shouleh Vatanabadi analyzed the issue of Iranian identity in the literature of the Iranian diaspora by means of a comparative review of three cultural texts by female authors.
The panel on Iranian visual and dramatic arts began with Majid Mohammadi's account of the politics of censorship in post-revolutionary Iranian cinema and how this may have determined the genres of films that have been produced. If there could have been a danger that the attention given to state control might downplay the creative contributions of Iranian artists, this was dispelled by Mahmood Karimi Hakak's personal account of his experience of returning to teach and direct drama students in Iran in the face of state censorship. Karimi Hakak gave a very moving account of the commitment and determination of Iranian drama students in the face of such challenges. Peter Chelkowski demonstrated with the use of his extensive slide collection the changing images of the revolution as seen in posters and large-scale murals in Tehran.
The panel on human rights began with Mehrangiz Kar's review of the issue of Women's rights in Iran during the twentieth century, focusing on the situation of activists in the face of the pressure and limitations imposed by the legal system. Farhad Khosrokhavar examined the changing culture among the youth in post-revolutionary Iran, with a focus on the most traditional city in Iran, the seminary city of Qom.
The panel on international relations was memorable in particular because of a tour de force analysis by Trita Parsi of the surprisingly complex relationship between Iran and Israel and its impact on Iran-US relations in the context of recent geopolitical shifts in the Middle East. Hamid Zangeneh presented an overview of the history of Iran-US relations during the past thirty years, and offered his view of what the future might bring under an administration led by Barack Obama, who is known in Persian as "Uba- ma", meaning "He is with us".
The large and diverse audience included Darius Shahnifar, who is running for the 21st Congressional District seat in Albany, New York, in November. Shahnifar observed the conference from early morning and enjoyed the dinner and the entertainment following the day's activities which was provided by the Chakavak Ensemble.
Sylver Gregory-McGriff, a student who had just traveled to Iran, was also one of the many guests who enthusiastically engaged the panelists with her questions. Matt Kaelin, a photographer who has been putting together a collection of pictures called the "Iranian Diaspora," was present to take part in the lectures, both as an artist and as a scholar in pursuit of his project. Also present were members of a reconciliation group who were on their way to Iran for meetings designed to promote better mutual understanding between Americans and Iranians, as well as faculty and graduate students from Princeton University, The College of New Jersey, and Montclair State University among others.
Center for Middle
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