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Recordings of Symposium on “Religious Practices, Transmission and Literacy in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia” Available Online

The African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED) is pleased to announce the release of the pre-recordings of an online symposium titled “Religious Practices, Transmission and Literacy in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.” The symposium consists of presentations by seven renowned scholars, each an-hour long and including a brief introduction and discussion with an area specialist from AMED.

Between June 1 and July 15, 2022, AMED hosted these seven scholars in the AMED Reading Room for two-week research residencies.  During their time at the Library, the scholars surveyed and studied materials from the Library’s collections pertinent to religion in the geographic areas covered by the division.  The topics include food cultures and art in religion, religious beliefs in the context of slavery and colonialism, comparisons of religious minorities, and religious freedom in constitutional systems.  These presentations feature highlights of the scholars’ research findings.

The scholarly residencies and ensuing symposium are part of the Exploring Challenging Conversations initiative generously funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc. The purpose of the initiative is to enhance public awareness of cross-regional and intercultural religious understanding in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and their global diasporas.

“The first cohort of Lilly scholars had a tremendous impact on AMED. Their wide-ranging interests ignited fresh dialogue about our collections and their research value. The research projects capture and reflect the breadth, depth, and diversity of AMED collections, and they invite opportunities for further collaborative engagement in key areas. AMED is honored and privileged to have received such an esteemed cohort of researchers,” says Dr. Lanisa Kitchiner, Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division.

A collage of headshots of 7 people, 3 women and 4 men, with text in the middle.

Lilly Scholar Residents 2022.

The division’s area specialists and reference librarians played an indispensable role throughout the scholars’ residencies. They identified and served the Library’s rare and unique collections and relevant resources, provided reference services, and collaborated closely with the resident scholars as thought partners to help shape research scopes and strategies.  At the end of each scholar’s visit, the division’s area specialists sought feedback from the scholars through an exit interview to learn about their research experience at the Library. Their insights are uniquely helpful to the division, particularly concerning the areas of collection development, public programming and community engagement.

At the conclusion of the residencies, the scholars expressed appreciation for the research opportunities and desire to establish continued collaboration with the Library. “What a marvelous, and marvelously productive, time I had at the LOC, thanks to this Lilly Scholars opportunity. I only wish that I had had more time! What is clear is that I want to return,” says Prof. Heather Sharkey, Chair, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania.

The seven scholars are:

Jacques Berlinerblau, Rabbi Harold S. White Chair in Jewish Civilization, Center for Jewish Civilization, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
Presentation title: Secular Africa? Making Sense of the Interplay Between Secular Constitutions and Religious Citizens

Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Presentation title: Conversion in Context: Rethinking Religious Change in Colonial Western Kenya

Whitney A. Kite, Ph.D. candidate, Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
Presentation title: Morphing Magi: The LOC Menologium in Dialogue with Seventeenth-Century Depictions of the Adoration of the Magi

Abdoulaye Laziz Nchare, Ph.D., Linguistics-Anthropology and Translator, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, St. John’s University
Presentation title: The Bamum Traditional Religion at the Crossroads of Islam and Christianity (Recordings forthcoming in the fall.)

Mamarame Seck, Associate professor at the Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire (IFAN), University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar
Presentation title: In the Footsteps of Omar ibn Said, a Muslim Slave from Fuuta Tooro

Heather Sharkey, Chair, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania
Presentation title: Sharing a Table: Commensality in Middle Eastern and North African Cookbooks

Ori Z. Soltes, Teaching Professor, Center for Jewish Civilization, Walsh School for Foreign Service, Georgetown University
Presentation title: The Druze and the Kurds: Two Complex Minority Models in a Complex Region

Also included in the Exploring Challenging Conversations initiative are a story map online exhibit, titled “Prayer Traditions in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia” and a series of “Islam in Africa and the Middle East” public programs, all made possible with support from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.

Use this link to access the full symposium program, recordings and the speakers’ bios and abstracts.

For reference assistance, contact the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room via Ask a Librarian or (202) 707-4188.

Taytu Betul: The Cunning Empress of Ethiopia

This blogpost uses the Library of Congress’ resources to introduce Empress Taytu Betul, spouse of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, who occupies an important page in the history of Ethiopia. She is remembered for her towering contributions in time of war, such as in the Battle of Adwa, and in the process of modernizing the country. Empress Taytu follows the example of her titanic women ancestors such as the Candaces, the Queen of Sheba, Queen Yodit [Judith], to name a few, who provided a legacy of excellence to the womenfolk of today’s Ethiopia.

The Enduring Beauty of a 300-Year-Old Decorated Ketubah

The Library of Congress’ Hebraic Section recently acquired a Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract), handwritten in 1722 in Ancona, Italy. Because the Ketubah is displayed during the ceremony, the tradition evolved to decorate the Ketubah. This Italian Ketubah from 1722 shows how the decoration adds beauty and meaning to a dry legal document.

The Second Rabbinic Bible, Venice, 1525: The Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division Celebrates an Important New Acquisition

The Hebraic Section of the Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division acquired the Second Rabbinic Bible, the Hebrew Bible printed by Daniel Bomberg in Venice, 1525. This is the Bible which preserved for all time the ancient legacy of the Masorah, the great mass of rabbinic tradition that safeguarded the sacred Hebrew text through the millennia.

Reimagining Home: Armenian Memorial Books at the Library of Congress

(The following is a post by Khatchig Mouradian, Armenian and Georgian Specialist, Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division.) The destruction of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population during World War I severed the connection of survivors and their descendants from their ancestral homes in what is today the Republic of Turkey. Scattered around the […]

Words like Sapphires: 15th-Century Hebrew Books at the Library of Congress

(The following is a post by Ann Brener, Hebraic Specialist, African and Middle Eastern Division.) It was apparently a case of love at first sight. How else to describe those first encounters between the earliest Hebrew printers and that newfangled technology that was spreading across Europe? Already in the first dated Hebrew book, printed in […]