By Fariba Amini
The 2010 Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Society of Iranian Studies (ISIS) convenes from May 27-30 in Los Angeles, California. This is the first time the conference is held in California. Previous venues have been Bethesda, MD, London and Toronto. ISIS is a broad international, independent organization. Established in 1967, it is becoming larger every year as the study of Iran becomes vital for the region and the world at large. Its members, most of whom are academics, study the many aspects of Iran's history and culture, from ancient times to the present. ISIS has its own journal, the International Journal of Iranian Studies. Its current editor is Dr. Homa Katouzian of Oxford University, UK who is assisted by Dominic Brookshaw of McGill University, Canada, and Hossein Shahidi of the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. ISIS is supported by the Roshan Heritage Cultural Institute, the Foundation for Iranian Studies, Farhang Foundation and the Iran Heritage Foundation.
ISIS is meeting at a time of great challenges, against a backdrop of civil unrest, a high number of executions, the incarceration of a large number of activists and civil rights defenders, and great pressure on academia in Iran. Included in the scholars from around the world who will attend and present papers are scholars from Iran who in recent years have found it difficult to leave Iran and obtain U.S. visas. This year, ISIS is hosting a number of young scholars who have become interested in the field of Iranian Studies.
In addition to the panels, there are other events going on. These include the latest documentary films, book exhibits and awards. This year the ISIS will honor two pioneers in the field of Iranian Studies, Ehsan Yarshater, Professor Emeritus at Columbia University, and Nikki Keddie Professor Emerita at UCLA. In addition, the winner of the Saidi -Sirjani 2008-2009 book award will be announced.
This year the conference will feature 61 panels and three workshops. Panels begin at 9 am and end at 7 pm. Since it is held in the heart of Santa Monica this year, ISIS hopes to draw people from the L.A. and southern California area.
Afkhami of the Foundation for Iranian Studies and president & CEO of Women's
Learning Partnership, who will be chairing a panel on Memories and Memoirs says:
"The discussion will focus primarily on the craft of memoir writing as well as
the ways in which this genre differs from other literary endeavors. The speakers
will talk about their own experiences as lived and as reflected in their
writing. They will discuss the characteristics of a successful memoir. A first
person narrator loses something in relation to the reader's perception of
objectivity. They will address the challenge of how to make up for the lack of
distance in this genre by creating a sense of immediacy, spontaneity, and
self-reflection. Most importantly, the conversation will give the perspectives
of three women (Goli Taraghi, Roya Hakakian, and Tara Bahrampour) on what it has
meant to be a woman living in Iran in the past several decades. The conference
as a whole presents a highly important venue for scholars from highly diverse
backgrounds and socio-political leanings to present and discuss their research
findings and their innovative ideas and enrich each other's knowledge and
experience. This is more important now than ever because the space for this type
of interaction and exchange has become narrower and less safe inside the
Nahid Mozafari, an independent scholar who has taught in various academic institutions in US and in Europe and whose dissertation was on the social and political thought of Ali Akbar Dehkhoda during the constitutional revolution both chairs a panel and is a panelist. Describing the new Harvard Digital Archive on the lives of women in the 19th century Iran, she will discuss the project at hand, "This archive is being set up to include original documents that we have been collecting from private collections and small libraries all over the world ( and we continue to collect) on the lives of women, in the attempt to provide historians with more primary sources on women. I will give a demonstration of the resources available in the archive."
She will also chair another relevant panel on "Boundaries between Scholarship and Activism: A Public Discussion." Dr. Mohamad Tavakoli of the University of Toronto (current President of ISIS) and Dr. Nayereh Tohidi of California State University, Northridge will open up the forum. On this issue, Nahid says: "It was set up with the idea that we should publicly discuss what boundaries, if any, exist between being a scholar and being a political person. It proved to be very timely considering what transpired with the Ariel situation. We hope that many people will participate in the discussion."
Ms. Bita Milanian of Farhang Foundation which is one of the sponsors of the conference says, "We feel as part of the Southern California community to make sure that this international conference is conducted in the best form possible. With so many Iranians and interests in Iran today, Farhang is making sure that the conference is successful. Farhang Foundation is providing funds for the conference as a whole and not any one panel. We are interested in the history, culture, language and tradition of Iran from antiquity to the present."
When asked Nahid Mozafari why she thinks the conference is important for Iranians and Iranian Americans to attend, she says, "The conference is important because it is the largest and most international scholarly organization specifically devoted to the study of Iran. It brings scholars together from many different disciplines to present their latest research. It is an important opportunity to meet with other scholars engaged in similar pursuits, to find out about new and different perspectives and to come into contact with the work of colleagues from all over the world, particularly scholars from Iran, Europe and Asia."
Finally, the future President of ISIS, Dr. Houchang Chehabi of Boston University says the following regarding the unique place of this organization: "ISIS is one of the longest-running scholarly institutions in Iranian history. It was founded in the 1960s, weathered the storm of the Islamic Revolution of the late 1970s, and is still going strong. It has smoothly gone through a generational turn-over, as the founders have stepped aside and graciously consented to be replaced by younger scholars. The key to this longevity and over-all harmony is the organization's institutional structure, which ensures that the leadership is elected by the membership in a secret ballot."
The International Society of Iranian Studies is a non-profit organization and solely relies on grants and yearly memberships. ISIS accepts donations from individuals and organizations. It is important to remember that behind every successful conference, there are those who dedicate their time and energy to make sure that everything goes smoothly and according to schedule. ISIS is fortunate to have many volunteers who are working behind the scene to ensure the success of this conference.
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