Past and present, and across myriad political and social regimes, the body has served as a critical site for power, its operations and its practices. Inside and outside the so-called “West,” gender and sexuality have been ubiquitous and universal forces in the material practice of politics and in the affective, discursive, and aesthetic architecture of state and society. The Middle East is no exception to this political reality. But here, questions of gender and sexuality have been contentious, imbricated in imperial histories, authoritarian realities, and religious hegemonies.  The presentations comprising this conference explore multiple dimensions through which the gendered and sexualized body has been rendered an object of public concern. From state regulation and regimes of morality to sexual ethics and practices of the self, from historical imaginaries of gender and sexual utopias as a source for politics to the political representation of women in epic poetry, these papers engage the problem of authority and the authorization of social and political transformation in a neo-imperial world order. What possibilities for gender and sexual emancipation are available in the dense webs that entangle colonial, authoritarian, populist, and theological regimes of power? What new sources of authority or collective politics are emerging to challenge these formations? And what keeps gendered and sexualized bodies stuck in place, whether on the margins or on the axes of power? Please join us as we probe the interdisciplinary problem-space of gender and sex in the contemporary and historic Middle East. 





Friday, May 14

4:30 - 6:30 PM CST: Sex and the State


  • “Efendilik:” Civility, Plurality, and Homohistoricism in Contentious Istanbul (Onursal Erol)

  • Secularism in Tunisia Revisited With Saba Mahmood (Shirley Le Penne) 

  • “Here, it is Armenian:” Ethnographic Accounts of Armenia’s Queer Movement and the Impact of International Homonormativity (Niko Shahbazian)

  • You’re Not the Dad of Me: The Egyptian State as a Paternal Entity (Frank Zator)



7 PM CST: Concert Stream – Kayhan Kalhor, kamancheh: Echoes of the East

   $15 | Free for UChicago Students

   Click here for more information.



Saturday, May 15


10 AM - 11:30 AM CST: NGOisation of Queer Struggles in Arabic-Speaking Countries: Problematising Language, Borders, and Power


  • Politics of Translation from a Historical Perspective: Translation Practices as Tools of Colonising (Dr Nour Abu-Assab).

  • A Critique of Queer Refuge and the Reproduction of Borders: Alternative Geographies (Roula Seghaier)

  • Colonialism in Disguise: North-Led Humanitarianism in Arabic-Speaking Countries (Dr Nof Nasser-Eddin) 

12 - 1:30 PM CST: Keynote Address by Paul Amar

"Deimperial Sexuality Studies: Emergent Geographies of Governance and Queer Epistemologies of Violence"


2 - 3 PM CST: Political Worldmaking in 20th Century Turkey and North Africa 

  • A Revolutionary Center in the East? Early Turkish Socialist Thought Between the Third International and the Turkish National Movement (Theo Knights)

  • Notes on the Political Writings of French Existentialists and Decolonial Theorists: Islam, Humanism, and the Problem-Space of Colonial Algeria (Alexis Chavez) 

3:30 - 5 PM CST: Religion, Sexual Ethics and the Problem of Authority 


  • Guiding the Female Body through Alo Fetva Hotline: The Female Preachers’ Fatwas on Religious Marriage, Religious Divorce and Sexual Life. (Burcu Kalpaklıoğlu).

  • #Dawa: Islam, Authority, and Women on Instagram (Sofia Smith)

  • Intrauterine Devices: halal or haram? A Look at Sexual Ethics from Revolutionary Shi’i Thinkers in Iran (Kate Hodgon)



Sunday, May 16


10 - 11:30 AM CST: Nation-building and the Governance of Female Sexuality: reflections on female (non)citizenship


  • “In through the Door—not through the Window” Syrian Refugees’ Stories of Love before and after Resettlement in San Diego, California (Morgen A. Chalmiers)

  • Charity for the Nation: Girls’ Schools, the Young Women’s Christian Association and Girls’ and Women’s Citizenship in French Mandate Lebanon (Johanna Peterson)

  • Girls Incorporated: Violence, Athletics, and Gender Anxiety within Preventative and Counter Violent Extremism: a Case Study of Girls' Athletics Programming in Jordan. (Molly O'Hagan)


12 - 1 PM CST: Representing Gender in Central Asian Poetry

  • Epic Women: A Comparison of the Roles of Women in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh and the Secret History of the Mongols (Kacey Evilsizor)

  • What can be Read? Contemporizing Erotic Desire in the Masnavi (Sean Widlake) 

1 - 3 PM CST: MEHAT Lamb Roast (sponsored by the Middle Eastern Studies Student Association)

RSVP by 9pm on Wednesday, May 12.  We cannot accommodate late requests and limits may apply.  You will receive a confirmation email after completing the survey.  Please give your name and show the confirmation email when picking up your food.




call for papers.

We invite proposals for papers and pre-arranged panels from graduate students, faculty, and independent scholars pertaining to the Middle East and spanning the sixth century c.e. to the present day. Topics include but are not limited to history, political science, anthropology, religious studies, geography, literary studies, philosophy, art history, and media studies. We welcome submissions covering all disciplines and time periods noted above.


We also encourage submissions related to the theme of this year’s conference: Theorizing Gender and Sexuality in the Historic and Contemporary Middle East. The keynote speaker of this year’s conference will be Professor Paul Amar (University of California, Santa Barbara), author of The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism.


For proposals related to the conference theme, questions of interest include the following:


  • How can theorizing about historic formations and articulations of gender and sexuality in the Middle East inform present day theory and praxis?

  • Can history serve as a reservoir of tools for contemporary revolutionary politics whose aims include gender and sexual emancipation?

  • How do we theorize gender and sexuality in the Middle East in a context of novel forms of global governance and security infrastructures?

  • What alternative geographies, vocabularies, and conceptual frameworks emerge in attending to particular historical struggles/movements that may not have had a lasting impact on contemporary politics or visions of state and society? What does reconstructing or recovering these struggles allow us to see?

  • What understandings of postcolonial state-formation emerge from moving beyond scholarly claims of “epistemic violence” in relation to matters of gender and sexuality in the Middle East?

  • How do feminist struggles within the Middle East inform, challenge, or compliment understandings of Western, rights-oriented political movements?

  • In what ways are categories of gender and sexuality deployed to police and regulate the boundaries of the nation? What new collective political identities emerge through the articulation of rights-claims on the part of gendered and sexual minorities? How are old collectivities activated and entrenched in the face of these rights-claims?


Application. Please send submissions electronically to, no later than Friday, February 7, 2020. Please include each presenter’s name, institution, and position, and attach a 250-word abstract with a tentative title. For pre-arranged panels, please send a single email with an overall panel description plus individual paper abstracts. The best abstracts will summarize the paper’s topic, its relationship and contribution to existing scholarship and specific conclusions. Abstracts will be evaluated anonymously by the coordinators; therefore, please do not include names or any identifying information in the abstract. If you are unsure about the suitability of your topic, feel free to email us at the above address. Selection results will be announced in March, 2020.


Panels. Papers will be selected and grouped into panels of three or four. Special preference will be given to pre-arranged panels, although individual submissions are always welcome. Participants should be prepared to deliver a maximum twenty-minute presentation and respond to questions from an assigned discussant as well as conference attendees. Written papers must be circulated to the respondent and fellow members of the panel at least two weeks before the conference.


Please circulate widely! For questions and accessibility concerns, please write to


Warm regards,


Omar Safadi

2020 Conference Coordinator

PhD Student, Political Science

University of Chicago



Since its inception 34 years ago, the annual Middle East History and Theory (MEHAT) Conference at the University of Chicago has earned a reputation as one of the premier academic gatherings in the field. Capitalizing on its setting at a university with a strong tradition in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, MEHAT has established itself as a major forum for emerging scholars across disciplines to share their research with peers, receive constructive feedback, and establish fruitful academic relationships. Participants come from North America, Europe, and the Middle East, and they include researchers at every stage of their careers. They also represent a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, from anthropology to comparative literature and from religious studies to political theory. This interdisciplinary approach has proved useful in developing productive avenues for comparative analysis, and it attracts a high caliber of participants eager to engage in this sort of interdisciplinary endeavor.


As an event conceived, organized, and executed by University of Chicago graduate students with minimal oversight by faculty, MEHAT runs on student initiative. Each year, a group of M.A. and Ph.D. students jointly undertakes the work of choosing themes and keynote speakers, developing a budget, securing funding, soliciting and evaluating submissions, organizing panels, arranging logistics, and overseeing the event as a whole. Over the past few decades, planning the annual MEHAT conference has become a rite of passage and a valuable professionalization experience for successive generations of students. Each year’s lead conference coordinators also work closely with the coordinators of the yearlong MEHAT Workshop sponsored by the Council for Advanced Studies (, which meets on a biweekly basis to present work in progress by advanced Ph.D. students from across the University, as well as new work by outside scholars.



Please direct all questions, inquiries, and concerns to Omar Safadi at