Student Research

This page contains details of the doctoral research students currently working within the Faculty of Oriental Studies. The list below gives their name, the topic of their research, and, where available, a brief abstract, organised by sub-faculty.

Near and Middle East
     South and Inner Asia     East Asia

Near and Middle East

Rowena Abdul Razak British Policy and the Tudeh Party of Iran, 1941-1953

Both British presence in Iran and the Tudeh Party (Party of the Masses) have a complex place in 20th Century Iranian history. For the first time, this doctoral thesis will examine the position of the Tudeh Party in British policy making from the start of the Anglo-Soviet Occupation (1941-1946) until the 1953 coup. Using the Tudeh Party as a barometer of British decision-making in Iran, it might be possible to track and chart the new considerations and factors that affected British presence in the country. This is an attempt to systematically study the development of British psyche in Iran during a particularly eventful period in Iranian and global history: the start of the Cold War, the end of empire, the rise of American presence in the region, and the Iranian struggle against imperial dominance. It is hoped to show that as these factors became more prominent, Britain began to see the Tudeh as more and more of a threat, which is reflected in their foreign policy towards Iran.


Muneera Al Khalifa - Narratives of Exclusion: National Identity and Citizenship in Bahrain

In this research, I aim to present a narrative of the process of nation building in Bahrain—to further analyze it, interrogate it, and capture an aspect of its complexity. By focusing on the years following Bahrain’s independence from Britain in 1971, I examine the period of nation building with the introduction of a constitution, and the dissolution of a short-lived parliament after two years of operation. The hypothesis underlying this thesis project is that the dominant historical narrative does not mirror historic memories that are integral to the pluralistic Bahraini identity. The central argument is advanced by examining the recent efforts in promoting national cohesion through civic education, which portrays a continuum of exclusions that omit shared histories. More so, the newly introduced civic education courses lead to further polarizations in portraying exclusivist images of national heritage and culture. By consulting archival material, oral narratives, and secondary sources, I aim to question the official historical narrative and show the polarized versions of history that can occur when such exclusions take place.  

Emilie Francois - The Movement for Unicity and Reform: A social movement approach

Haraka at-Tawhid wa al Islah, the Movement for Unicity and Reform is one of the largest islamic social movements in Morocco today. It is the movement which launched the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), the largest Islamic political opposition movement in the parliament and has associations working in all fields of society, from education, to prozelitism, to trade unions and women’s rights. A social movement theory approach will seek to outline the movement’s history, organisation and ideological outlook and situate them within historical developments, including broader movements, nationally and internationally. A detailed analysis of the movement will aim to contribute to the literature on Islamic social movements more broadly, notably their roots, aims and objectives, and evolution.


Laura Hawkins - The Third Millennium Syrian Cuneiform Syllabary and the Adaptation of Cuneiform to Write Semitic

My thesis focuses on the similarities and differences between the linguistic and lexicographic features attested in the Semitic-language texts from the Mesopotamian “core” and the Syrian “periphery” in the late third millennium BC. I am tracking how the spread of cuneiform into Syria occurred and how it was adapted to meet the needs of its non-Sumerian and, perhaps, non-Akkadian speakers, with a particular focus on the earliest phases of adaptation.  The primary goal of my thesis is to create a Syrian cuneiform syllabary and sign list, which will be accomplished through the compilation of the different syllabaries of Tuttul, Nabada, Ebla, and Mari and will compared with Old Akkadian.  The secondary goal of my research is to document the linguistic features of the Semitic dialects attested in these third millennium Syrian texts.  The linguistic data gathered from the syllabically written lexemes will be analyzed in order to compare them with other better-attested Semitic languages, such as Akkadian, Eblaite, and Ugaritic.  


Aly Lela - Flexibility of Shari’ah, Practical Implementation in The West

The Muslim community in the West is undergoing a unique experience where the adage “Shari’ah is a comprehensive way of life and is relevant and applicable in all times and places” is being strongly tested. The question of the ability of the Western secular sociopolitical and legal systems to accommodate a specific religious legal system is debated deeply in the fields of sociology and political science. Few studies, however, have addressed the other side of the question, i.e. examining the flexibility of Sharia, and the extent to which it can acclimate to the perpetually changing social norms especially in Western secular societies.

This study aims to examine the flexibility of Shari’ah and its functionality in the West. It will look at the different definitions of Sharia, its sources, scope and the role of its high objectives as philosophy of Islamic law. It will also explore the dissection of legal authority in Shari’ah between God and humans and how this dichotomy stimulates the adjustability of the Islamic legal system through examining both theoretical and practical aspects of Shari’ah.

This study is divided into two parts; the first part consists of the first four chapters that provide the theoretical framework of the study. Chapter one treats the various definitions, the sources and the scope of Shari’ah. Chapter two addresses the issue of divinity and humanity aspects of Shari’ah and the implications of making the distinction between them. Chapter three tackles the subject of the higher objectives of Shari’ah from both historical and analytical perspectives. Chapter four will address the opportunities and the challenges facing the Muslim community in the West.

Part two will present case studies in three central areas- Citizenship, Muslim Family Law, and Muslim bioethics- with the intention of investigating the dynamism of the Islamic legal system in the Western context and how Muslim jurists produce new legal adjudications in these areas. The study will survey, analyze and evaluate the Islamic legal opinions made by the Muslim jurists in these three areas.


Ryan J. LynchBetween the Conquests and the Court: A Critical Analysis of al-Balādhurī and his Kitāb Futūḥ al-Buldān

The ninth century CE works of the historian al-Balādhurī provide modern scholars with some of the earliest surviving written accounts of the foundational period of Islamic history. While much has been written over the last century on the author’s Ansāb al-Ashrāf, the Kitāb Futūḥ al-Buldān has never before had a monograph dedicated to its study despite its use as by most historians looking for information on this early period. 

Of his two surviving works, the Futūḥ outlines the period of the early Islamic conquests, and provides a unique focus on how cities and regions were conquered as well as subsequently administered. al-Balādhurī’s work is genre-defying, both in its organization and the material he chooses to focus on, setting the work apart from its historical contemporaries. My work is an analysis of the structure, content, and composition of the text, discussing the genre of conquest literature more generally, working to identify why the author includes (and excludes) the information he does, and how the organization of the text helps develop the overarching themes and issues the author intended to portray.






Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi - Disenchanting Political Theology in Post-revolutionary Iran; Reform, Religious Intellectualism and the Death of Utopia

This thesis attempts to trace the entwined nature of political and religious reform in post-revolutionary Iran and thereby delineate the intellectual genesis of the so-called 2nd Khordād reform movement. In particular it charts the transformation and genealogy of the so-called ‘religious intellectuals’ from ideological legitimators of the newly-established theocratic-populist regime to loyal critics whose vision for the political order coalesced and converged with the growing disillusionment of a considerable swathe of the political elite, who increasingly felt themselves marginalised and on the outskirts of power.

The thesis then moves to show how this network of intellectuals and politicos following the election of Mohammad Khatami to the presidency sought to disseminate their ideas at the popular level by means of the press and numerous party and political periodicals. It provides an extensive exposition of the various debates revolving around the nature of constitutionalism, ideology, rights, and political reform. The thesis’s objective is to shed new light, not only on the origins and vicissitudes of the political and religious debates which took place inside Iran in the course of the 1990s, but also demonstrate the intimate connection between the project of ‘religious intellectualism’ and elite-defined notions of ‘democracy’ and ‘development’.


Shadaab Rahemtulla - Through the Eyes of Justice: A Comparative Study of Liberationist and Feminist Readings of the Qur'an

My doctoral dissertation explores the emergence of liberation theology and feminist theology in Islam. By critically analysing the theological works of five Muslim intellectuals – namely, Farid Esack in South Africa; Asghar Ali Engineer in India; Amina Wadud and Asma Barlas in the United States; and Gamal al-Banna in Egypt – my thesis underscores a remarkable convergence in their religious discourses, despite their markedly different geographical contexts: they not only foreground social justice and the struggle against oppression, but they also uphold the primacy of the Qur’an as the authoritative text of the faith. An important intellectual development in contemporary Muslim circles, then, is that Islam has increasingly become a liberating, theological language for Muslims living and dying in structures of inequality, speaking forcefully to contexts of suffering such as poverty, patriarchy and racism, and the Qur’an in particular – as opposed to other Islamic texts like the reported actions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (hadith) or the inherited legal tradition (shari’a) – has become the prime hermeneutical medium through which this religious discourse of resistance is being articulated. My dissertation seeks to document this phenomenon.


Eskandar Sadeghi - Liberalizing Shi’ism: The Political-Theology of Iran’s Post-Revolutionary Religious Intellectuals (Soroush, Kadivar, Mojtahed-Shabestari, Malekian)


Fatemeh Shams Esmaeili - Transformation of Ideology in Post-Revolutionary Persian Poetry: Case Study of Qaysar Aminpour

Scholarly works in the field of Persian poetry, particularly in the Western academic world are mostly confined to detailed research on renowned classical Persian poets such as Rumi, Hāfez and Saʿdi  and famous modern poets such as Ahmad Shāmlu, Forugh Farrokhzād and Sohrāb Sepehri. Moreover, when such literary criticism reaches the revolutionary era, they seem to have merely narrowed their focus to concentrate only on leftist trends within the Iranian literary culture .

Attention to post-revolutionary Persian poetry and the analysis of prominent poets of this literary epoch has been largely neglected in both Persian-speaking and non-Persian-speaking academia. Although the relationship between the ideology of the pre-revolutionary ruling system and the literary works of the poets and writers of that era has been tackled in a number of academic works , the significant relationship between the ruling ideology and literature during the post-revolutionary period has not received the attention it deserves. This DPhil thesis attempts to shed light on this relationship with specific reference to the early life and poetry of Qaysar Aminpur.


Jose Vericat - An analysis of the internal debates within the Palestinian Islamic movement 

Muslim politics are not monolithic. Hamas is a movement that has a specific agenda, different from other Islamic movements. Also the values and motivations that Hamas acts according to are not all rooted in Islam. Further, its doctrine changes depending on the situation as well as over time, though often it tries to justify such modifications within a religious framework. As I analyze the decisions the movement makes and the discussions around these I pay particular attention to the use of religious references, and the different functions that they serve. I try to show that there is a heated internal debate, a wide variety of opinions struggling with each other to define values and shape the movement. I also trace the origins of these discussions to debates in Islamic intellectual history. My overall aim is to decode the religious, political and philosophical underpinnings of Hamas and by doing so to throw some light on the relation between religion and politics in political Islam in general.  


David Zakarian - Women in Medieval Armenia (IV-XI centuries)

My research aims at filling in a big lacuna in Armenian studies concerning the position and role women played in medieval Armenian largely patriarchal society through an interdisciplinary study of their representation in literature and the fine arts. Its focus is on the period from the 4th to 11th centuries.

Undoubtedly, women, predominantly of noble descent, wielded some influence in the society of medieval Armenia, an observation supported by both archaeological and literary evidence. A thorough study of both textual and non-textual material may provide us with unique insights in the way the Armenian society functioned.

The research will attempt to answer several important questions: How much power was allocated to women in Armenian society according to ideological norms? Was their social status determined by the one of their fathers’ or husbands’ (as in medieval Europe)? Did they have the right to inherit or own property? Could they receive education? How are they presented by the patriarchy and what feminine ideals are promoted by predominantly male authors? Finally, to what extent did their position in the discourse of power allowed them to contribute and shape that society?

South and Inner Asia

Megan RobbMedinah Newspaper, Muslim Identity, and Bijnauri Qasbah Culture 1912-1947

This project looks at the case study of the Urdu language newspaper Medinah, published in Bijnaur district of the then-United Provinces, and its place at the nexus of urban culture, mass media, and Muslim political and cultural identity. Looking at the place of the newspaper and its editors in the cultural and financial economy of Bijnaur and the United Provinces as a whole, the project seeks to illustrate the grassroots nature of Muslim identity, within Bijnaur as well as between qasbahs in North India, during a period of flux. I draw upon interdisciplinary metholodogies, including history, media studies, literary theory, and anthropology.


Greg Seton - The Transcendence of Wisdom in 8,000 lines according to Ratnākaraśānti

Ratnākaraśānti (eleventh century) is one of the most important systematizers of Mahāyāna Buddhist thought. His magnum opus, known as The Quintessence (Sāratamā) is one of the two most important commentaries on the oldest Mahāyāna scriptures, known as Transcendence of Wisdom in 8,000 lines (Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā). Since it has never been translated into a Western language nor studied in depth by a Western scholar, I will present a new Sanskrit critical edition and annotated translation, with an detailed study of this work, based on a philological comparison of eleventh and thirteenth century Sanskrit manuscripts and the eleventh century Tibetan translations.  In my analysis, I will also identify the particular features of Ratnākaraśānti’s unique interpretation and track their unacknowledged, yet formidable, influence on subsequent Buddhist thinkers in both India and Tibet.

East Asia

Marshall Craig - Worldview and National Identity in China, Korea and Japan: a transnational microhistory of the Imjin War, 1592-1598

In 1592 Japanese forces landed on the Korean peninsula with the express intent of no less than capturing Beijing and replacing China as the political and cultural hegemon of the known world.  The result was a devastating war involving China, Korea, and Japan, that had profound social, economic, political, and even linguistic ramifications.  The conflict represented a clash of worldviews and of communities.  As a powerful instance of international interaction, it offers a window through which to view perceptions of the country and of the world in pre-modern East Asia.

Building on the vast body of diaries, letters, and histories left to us by participants in the war from all three countries, my research looks at how polity, territory and culture were perceived as elements of group identity.   I combine linguistic analysis of groups of texts with case studies of individual witness accounts in order to capture the diversity of worldview demonstrated by writers from different areas and social positions – from the supreme commander to the slave.   The project will give contextualised and well-evidenced insight into changing ideas of the international order and of the nation in the era prior to the rise of nationalism in China, Korea, and Japan.


Yuen Lai Winnie Chan - Garden Culture of Qing Dynasty China


Yegor Grebnev - The Core Chapters of the Yi Zhou Shu

The goal of my project is a systematic study of the core chapters of the Yi Zhou shu 逸周書, a heterogeneous collection of 59 chapters that has been neglected in the Chinese tradition and, consequently, in Western Sinology. The Yi Zhou shu has only started receiving more attention in recent years, after the acquisition of a bulk of textually related material in the so-called 'Bamboo strips of the Tsinghua University' (Qinghua jian 清華簡) in 2008. Like some other texts, such as the Da Dai li ji 大戴禮記, the Yi Zhou shu is a 'text without a tradition', i.e. an ancient text that has been transmitted with a very fragmentary commentary or no commentary at all, which makes the task of reading and explaining it much more challenging than it is in the case of canonised texts, for which extensive commentaries are available. However, this difficulty can also become an advantage, as the Yi Zhou shu presents an interesting case of a text unaffected by the tradition. While the canonised texts have been understood through the prism of traditional commentaries, the absence of such commentaries may lead to a reading that would reveal more about the sociological setting and intellectual milieu in which the text was formed, rather than about the opinions of later commentators.


Rens Krijgsman - The Textualization of Cultural Memory in Early Chinese Manuscripts

This project analyses textual strategies for presenting arguments during the mid-late Warring States Period (ca. 350-280 BCE) in Early China. These texts preserved on bamboo manuscripts show several distinct patterns of mediating specific arguments through their selective adoption of generic, intertextual, and culturally prescribed methods of knowledge construction. A fundamental but often overlooked tension exists between latter day, imperial constructions and categorizations of texts and intellectual affiliations on the one hand, and shared cultural narrative on the other hand. My project examines how different types of manuscript texts mediate this tension by looking into their textual, material and meta-textual characteristics. Accordingly, it challenges long standing assumptions on textuality, literacy, memory culture and transmission and proposes a new paradigm for conceptualizing knowledge production. 


刘倩 Qian Liu - Translated Love Fictions during the Late Qing and Early Republican Period and the Modernity of Chinese Literature

I shall mainly look at the condition of late Qing early Republican Chinese translation of foreign literature, particularly novels about love. I am collecting first hand materials about works that were translated and to what extent they were altered during the translation process. I wish to go still further by questioning what kind of cultural characteristic is revealed, how translators fought with, conquered or were otherwise overwhelmed by the original fiction and how this experience influenced their own literary creation. To go still further, I want to examine the modernization of Chinese literature from the perspective of love fiction translation, as love, other than detective or political issues, reaches closer to people's inner self, thus able to produce more profound and direct influence on people's way of thinking.


陸志鴻 Gary Chi-hung Luk - Boat and Fishing Populations in Southeastern China in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

My research interests lie in the history of boat-dwellers and fishermen scattered along the coasts and waterways in Guangdong and Fujian provinces in the mid-nineteenth century. At that time they lived in a region where lineages, secret societies, rebel and piratical groups intertwined, and Sino-Western encounters took place. The geographical, political and socio-economic settings combined together to situate the vast boatmen at the margins of traditional Chinese society, of the underworld, and of Western imperialism in China. My doctoral project is to explore this marginal water world and bridge it to the external wars and internal unrests which then characterised southeastern China and the whole country at large.


Rachel Silberstein - Embroidered Figures: Popular Culture and the Nineteenth-Century Chinese Fashion System

Within the traditional art historical narrative of Chinese dress, long held in sway by the glories of late Ming and High Qing imperial robes, nineteenth-century women’s dress has been characterized by decay and viewed with disdain. This thesis questions this assumption through the close study of a group of late Qing women’s jackets, characterised by a fashionable silhouette and the use of embroidery to depict narrative scenes. Using theories and methodologies adopted from material culture scholarship, I reconstruct the production and consumption of this style within the Qing fashion system, and investigate the opportunities embroidery offered for women to express their relationship with print and performance culture. By drawing the contours of this commercialized, fashion-conscious market, and demonstrating the impact of contemporary visual culture upon embroidery design, I argue the influence of popular culture upon the late Qing fashion system partly accounts for the appearance of narrative imagery in nineteenth-century fashions. I further demonstrate some of the ways in which the narrative tales referenced in the jackets provided a means of comprehension and expression for late Qing women, and suggest that this dimension may more fully explain the popularity of narrative as decorative theme in Qing textiles and dress.


Lik Hang Tsui 徐力恒 - The Social and Cultural Uses of Letters in Imperial China: Focusing on Developments in Southern Song (1127-1279)

This doctoral dissertation will focus on how elites in Song China exchanged political and personal information by sending letters to others and how the genre of letters was transformed by writers. The writing of personal letters has been an archaic practice in China’s history, yet epistolary practices were never stagnant and had a considerable impact on the culture and social exchanges of the literatus. By analyzing epistolary manuals (shuyi 書儀 and the like), extant manuscript letters, engraved calligraphy models (fatie法 帖), and transmitted texts from collections from the Southern Song dynasty, this dissertation will show that letters has not only become an increasingly important genre at that time, but has also become more involved in the construction of a common knowledge and the transmission of philosophical and religious ideas. This research seeks to contribute to our understanding of underexplored epistolary sub-genres in the Chinese literary tradition and to shed light on the social history of epistolary communication.


Zixi You - Split intransitivity in Old Japanese

Since the formulation of Perlmutter’s Unaccusative Hypothesis, which divides intransitive verbs into ‘unaccusatives’ and ‘unergatives’, split intransitivity has received a great deal of attention among linguists. However, little attention has been dedicated to Asian languages or dead languages. Within the larger project Verb semantics and argument realization in pre-modern Japanese, my DPhil research fills the gap by investigating the lexical-semantic aspects of split intransitivity in relation to their morpho-syntactic expressions and exploring to what extent intransitive verbs can be classified as unaccusative and unergative in Old Japanese (OJ). Syntactically, I look into diagnostics specific to OJ (e.g., auxiliary selection) alongside diagnostics which show split intransitivity in modern Japanese (e.g., resultative construction, VP-preposing, NV-compounds, light verb suru construction, etc.); semantically, I investigate the interaction between factors including agentivity, volitionality, affectedness and telicity. The descriptive and analytical work of the research is based on the VSARPJ Corpus (an electronic database including major OJ texts with various grammatical, especially syntactic, information in the form of xml tags following TEI conventions) which we are creating for the larger project. The results of this research are expected to contribute to a detailed description of OJ verbs, while having implications for linguistic theory in general.