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Seema Golestaneh

Assistant Professor

Seema Golestaneh

White Hall
sg2327@cornell.edu

Educational Background

  • 2014 Columbia University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology. Ph.D. in Socio-Cultural Anthropology
  • 2007 Columbia University. Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology. MA in Socio-Cultural Anthropology
  • 2006 Barnard College. Department of Comparative Literature, Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature (Persian and French); Summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa.

Overview

Seema Golestaneh is an assistant professor in Cornell’s department of Near Eastern Studies. Her research, situated at the nexus of anthropology and religious studies, is focused on expressions of contemporary Islamic thought in the Persian-speaking world.  She am particularly interested in how metaphysical experiences make themselves known in the socio-material realm via aesthetics and epistemology.  Her forthcoming book, Unknowing and the Everyday: Sufism and Knowledge in Iran, examines the social and material life of gnosis (ma’arifat) for disparate Sufi communities in Iran. Essentially an anthropology of the imagination, Seema’s work also relies heavily on textual ethnography and analysis, emphasizing the importance of hermeneutics within the Iranian socio-theological sphere.    

Situated at the nexus of anthropology and religious studies, my research is focused on expressions of contemporary Islamic thought in the Persian-speaking world.  I am particularly interested in how metaphysical experiences make themselves known in the socio-material realm via aesthetics and epistemology.  My forthcoming book, Unknowing and the Everyday: Sufism and Knowledge in Iran, examines the social and material life of gnosis (ma’arifat) for disparate Sufi communities in Iran. Essentially an anthropology of the imagination, my work also relies heavily on textual ethnography and analysis, emphasizing the importance of hermeneutics within the Iranian socio-theological sphere.    

Publications:

“Open Sounds, Hidden Spaces: Listening, Wandering, and Literalism in Sufi Iran,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 2021.

“Text and Contest: Theories of Secrecy and Dissimulation in the Archives of Sufi Iran” in Sufism and Shi’ism in the Early Modern and Modern Eras, IB Tauris, 2019.

 

Departments/Programs

  • Anthropology
  • Near Eastern Studies
  • Society for the Humanities

Affiliations

  • Religious Studies Program

Research

Utopia Lost: Afghan Theories of Islamic Governance

During my time as a Faculty Fellow, I will begin research on my second book project, tentatively titled Utopia Lost: Afghan Theories of Islamic Governance. Drawing largely from archival materials, Utopia Lost investigates the dreams and aspirations of Afghan intellectuals in the late 1980s and 1990s for a form of representational government based partially on what might be called a “progressive” interpretation of Islamic ideals. During the devastating war with the Soviets, Afghan writers, journalists, poets, and activists began discussing plans for the form of government they would like to see in post-war Afghanistan. They formed organizations and founded periodicals, held weekly seminars and organized conferences, wrote poetry and manifestos, and, in the absence of a functioning government, viewed these debates as possessing the utmost urgency. As the Soviet invasion gave way to the rise of the US and Pakistan backed Taliban, however, the plans expressed within these writings never came to fruition.

Central to my project is the question of failure. Afghanistan is sometimes synonymous with failed enterprises and campaigns, the so-called “graveyard of empires” for the world’s superpowers. And yet behind these cratered missions are other plans thwarted, other dreams suspended: those of the Afghan themselves. In many ways, since the 1979 invasion by the Soviets, the intellectuals and activists of Afghanistan have not even had an opportunity to fail. As such, I am interested not only in these theories of governance themselves, but how they are remembered and reflected upon by the Afghans who lived them, especially in light of the West’s indifference towards and erasure of the movement.  And so I ask: what is the afterlife of something that never came to pass? 

Courses

Fall 2021

Publications

Published
  • “Unremarkable Evidence: Investigating the Private and Digital Archives of Sufis in Post-Revolutionary Iran” for Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East; accepted for Special Edition on “Islam and Regimes of Evidence,” forthcoming 2018.
  • “Text and Contest: Theories of Secrecy and Dissimulation in the Archives of Sufi Iran” in Sufism and Shi’ism in the Early Modern and Modern Eras, IB Tauris with the Institute for Ismaili Studies, forthcoming February 2018.
  • “Listening, Non-Knowledge, and the Auditory Body: Understanding Sufi Zikr Ritual as Sites of Aesthetic Experience” in Saints and their Pilgrims in Iran and Neighboring Countries, Vantage, Sean Kingston Press, June 2012.
  • “Haunted Sound: Nothingness, Movement, and the Minimalist Imagination” (with Jason Mohaghegh as first author) in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, February 2011.
Under Review
  • “Open Sounds, Hidden Spaces: Listening, Wandering, and Spatial Formation in Sufi Iran,” for Cultural Anthropology.
In Preparation
  • Unknowing and the Everyday: Sufism and Knowledge Production in Post-Revolutionary Iran (Manuscript)
  • “Women's Religious and Social Activism in Iran” in Oxford University Press's Handbook of Islam and Women; accepted, forthcoming 2019.

News

Society for the Humanities 'Afterlives' theme draws record interest