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Middle East, Islamic Scholars Join Faculty

Seven Scholars with Expertise in the Middle East and Islam Join UCR

New faculty will bring insights into the Iraq war, Islamic feminism and an Islamic reformation.

(August 15, 2007)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — Seven scholars who join the UC Riverside faculty this fall bring expertise in the Middle East and Islamic world, and insights into global issues such as the war in Iraq, Arab identity, Islamic feminism and what some are calling an Islamic reformation.

“These faculty have expertise in literature, politics, religious studies, women's studies, and media and creative writing,” said Stephen Cullenberg, dean of UCR’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

“With the major political and cultural issues of our day, and for the foreseeable future, shaped by global and religious forces in these areas, it is very important to develop scholarly expertise, including language skills, for our students and faculty alike,” he said.

These scholars will help expand and develop the internationalization of the curriculum of the college, along with other thriving and new programs in Latin American Studies, Global Studies and Southeast Asia, the dean said.

Joining the faculty are:

Reza Aslan, assistant professor of creative writing
An internationally known Iranian-American writer and scholar of religions, Aslan is a regular commentator for American Public Media’s Marketplace and the Middle East analyst for CBS News, has written for numerous national publications, and has appeared on “Meet the Press” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” His first book, “No god but God,” was published in 2005 and has been translated into half a dozen languages. His next book, “How to Win a Cosmic War: Why We're Losing the War on Terror,” will be published by Random House in 2008. Born in Tehran, he moved to the United States in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. He has a Ph.D. in the history of religions from UC Santa Barbara.

Susan Ossman, professor of anthropology
Ossman’s research focuses on the Arab world in Europe and on the media. She also studies issues of Arab identity, gender in the Middle East and international migration. She has worked in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, the Persian Gulf countries, France and the United Kingdom. She comes to UCR from Goldsmith’s College, University of London, where she directed the master’s program in transnational communications and global media. Previously she taught at Rice and Georgetown universities and the CELSA-Sorbonne and the American University of Paris. She also directed the Rabat center of the Institut de Recherche sur le Maghreb Contemporain in Morocco. She holds a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and is the author of “The Places We Share: Migration, Subjectivity and Global Mobility” (2007), “Three Faces of Beauty: Casablanca, Paris, Cairo” (2002) and “Picturing Casablanca: Portraits of Power in a Modern City” (1994).

Laila Lalami, assistant professor of creative writing
Born and raised in Morocco, Lalami worked as a journalist for the French-language newspaper Al-Bayane covering political and cultural events. Her first novel, “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits” (2005), has been translated into five languages. “The Fanatic,” one of four linked profiles from the book, was a finalist for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006. She has received an Oregon Literary Arts grant and a Fulbright Fellowship. Her literary criticisms and political essays have appeared in national media, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Lalami holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Southern California.

Muhamad Ali, assistant professor of religious studies
Ali most recently was a lecturer at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta, while he completed his Ph.D. in history at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He also was a fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu. Recent research has focused on Indonesian responses to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and Indonesian Muslim perceptions toward the U.S. He also is interested in Islamic movements in Southeast Asia, Islam and politics, pluralism, and relations between Muslims and the West.

Sherine Hafez, assistant professor of women’s studies
A scholar in comparative Islamic feminism, Hafez comes to UCR from American University in Cairo, where she was an instructor in the Department of Sociology-Anthropology-Psychology-Egyptology. Among her research interests are Muslim women’s activism in Egypt, which she says is producing an Islamic movement that redefines the role of women in society. Hafez holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California.

Jeffrey Sacks, assistant professor of comparative literature
Sacks, who most recently taught Arabic at Columbia University, is a writer, translator and scholar whose research interests focus on Arabic language and literature. He translated a collection of poems, “Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?” by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, and is editing and translating a collection of essays by Elias Khoury. He holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Ebru Erdem, assistant professor of political science
Erdem’s research is in comparative politics with an emphasis on identity politics, ethnic conflict and institutional choice in Central Asia and the Turkic world. She also is interested in the politics of Central Asia, Turkey and Muslim societies. Born and raised in Turkey, Erdem earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University, where she was a lecturer and researcher. She has served on the board of the nonprofit Friends of Anatolia and volunteered with other Turkish nonprofits focusing on child labor and animal shelters.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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