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Center for MIddle East Studies
South Asia
About Us
Principal Investigator

Holly Shissler is Associate Professor of modern Middle Eastern history in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Her research interests include late Ottoman intellectual history, the development of Turkish nationalism, and social engineering in the early Turkish Republic. She served as Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies from July 1, 2007-July 1, 2009. During this period she wrote the grant proposal for Chicago’s Muslims in Their Own Voices: Lived Identity in the First Person.
Project Coordinator

Alex Barna is the Outreach Coordinator at the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He earned a BA in Religion from Duke University in 2004 and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University in 2007. He has been a staff member with the Center since the summer of 2008.
Project Advisor

Tarini Bedi is the Associate Director of the South Asia Language and Area Center and the Committee on Southern Asian Studies. She is a cultural anthropologist who conducts her research in Maharashtra, India. Her research and teaching interests are in urban anthropology, nationalism, gender, and local politics in South Asia. Her work has been published in the Journal of International Women’s Studies, The Economic and Political Weekly, and Man in India. Dr. Bedi is currently working on a book project on performative politics and the rise of female political patronage in urban India. She received her undergraduate degree at Bennington College in Social Sciences and Theater, an MA in Political Science from McGill University and an MA and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Previously, Dr. Bedi has worked with the Gallup Organization as Qualitative Research Specialist and Managing Consultant, and as a Researcher at the Center for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Most recently, she was a visiting scholar in Women’s Studies at the University of Pittsburgh and a Project Manager for Learning Assessment at Carnegie Mellon University.

Brian Ashby is the Program Assistant for the South Asia Language and Area Center (SALAC) and Committee on Southern Asian Studies (COSAS). He received his BA in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 2006, and was a Junior Fellow at the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and a participant in the South Asian Civilizations Abroad program in Pune, India. Brian is also a filmmaker and photographer, currently finishing the feature documentary entitled Scrappers.

Besheer Mohamed is a Ph.D. student in the University of Chicago's sociology department. He is currently working on his dissertation which will use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods to explore religiosity among Muslims in America. His research interests include American Muslims, sociology of religion, and survey methodology.

Fatima Sattar was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. Her family emigrated from Hyderabad, India to the US in the 1970’s. Fatima earned her Bachelor of Arts degree, Summa Cum Laude, in sociology from Aurora University in May, 2006, and she completed her M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago in March, 2008. Her M.A. thesis, titled “Memories from the Partition of India: Understanding History, Violence and the Hindu-Sikh-Muslim Relationship,” was a study of the reconstruction of memory among survivors who emigrated from India to Pakistan after the 1947 Partition. Fatima is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Sociology at Boston College. Her research interests include ethnic conflict, violence, human rights, poverty, gender and education. Fatima enjoys traveling and studying foreign languages.

Sylvia Hammad, a Palestinian American, was born in Ramallah, Palestine and moved to Chicago in 1977 with her parents. Sylvia grew up within a variety of Muslim communities, living on both the North side and South side of the city. She earned her undergraduate degree in English Literature and Secondary Education from Governors State University in 2002. Sylvia then taught at the high school level from 2003-2006. She returned to academia the fall of 2006, pursuing a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. In her M.A. thesis, entitled “Palestinian First, American Second? The Study of Palestinian Americans and the Duality of Identity,” Sylvia explored the reasons behind Palestinian-Americans’ attachment to their parents’ homeland. Currently, she is a researcher supporting the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, an initiative of University of Chicago Professor Robert A. Pape. Sylvia eventually plans to return to teaching within the Chicago Public Schools system.

Noshaba Bhatti, is a South Asian American whose parents came to the United States in the late 1970’s. For her undergraduate studies, Noshaba attended DePaul University. She focused on issues relating to social justice and completed her BA in Islamic World Studies in 2007. Since graduating from DePaul, Noshaba has been working as a Supervised Child Visitation Facilitator and Children’s Advocate for Apna Ghar, a South Asian based nonprofit organization that provides multilingual and multicultural services to victims and survivors of domestic violence. In the fall of 2009, Noshaba entered the MA program in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. As a graduate student, she plans to study social and political theory as it applies to the Islamic world.


Kendra Rutgers is originally from the Pacific Northwest. In 2009, she earned an MA in the humanities from the University of Chicago, focusing on music. She is currently conducting independent research on the intersection between world music and music theory pedagogy, and she plans to continue her education at the doctoral level in the fall of 2010. Kendra is a member of Chicago’s Teachers for Social Justice, and she also enjoys dancing (ballet, modern, swing), music-making (gamelan, flute, choir), cooking, charcoal drawing, and gardening.

Laura Freseman received her BA from Wellesley College and is currently a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the engagement of eighteenth-century English style and criticism with Middle Eastern literature. Laura was instrumental in preparing grant proposal for this project.