Ertegun Staff and Scholar Profiles

Sophie Chamas

Current course: 
DPhil in Oriental Studies

I have been debating the Middle East since my Freshman year of high school, so it will perhaps come as no surprise that I chose to make the region the focus of both my academic and professional endeavours. 

As a graduate student in Near Eastern Studies at New York University, I took a particular interest in the study of pious subjectivities and, through my work on the subject, cultivated a deep respect for the effort involved inhabiting a particular religious tradition. This spurred my desire to challenge conventional ways of perceiving and interpreting the Middle East as a journalist and a writer. I produced work that I hoped would push my readers to question their beliefs about the universality of particular desires and the naturalness of certain norms, and that would encourage them to hesitate before calling for the abandonment of certain practices and traditions they found difficult to comprehend or condone. 

It is this same impulse that has determined the focus of the doctoral project I am carrying out within the Oriental Studies faculty here at Oxford, where I plan on exploring secular-liberal subjectivity in Lebanon – a subject I also believe to be clouded by problematic assumptions. As both a scholar and a writer, my goal continues to be to push my readers and interlocutors to respectfully ask ‘how’ people come to live and think in certain ways, and to understand that we are all enmeshed in productive power relations that simultaneously enable and disable us, in the hopes of promoting generous and fair conversations about how to create shared spaces accommodative of multiple ways of being. 

My experience as a member of the Middle East-focused media collective Mashallah News has taught me the benefit of bringing different personal experiences, disciplinary backgrounds and professional perspectives to bear on the exploration of the Middle East. My work with the online publishing platform has shown me that cross-experiential conversations and exchanges are not only beneficial, but necessary for those of us who want to not only contribute to our fields, but call the conventions they take for granted into question. Not only does Oxford host some of the most renowned scholars of the Middle East and a formidable collection of primary and secondary sources from and about the region but, as an Ertegun scholar, I have the privilege of operating within a tight-knit community of peers who share an interest in and dedication to the humanities, but who come from different disciplinary backgrounds and are pursuing different geographical focuses. In addition to engaging them in interdisciplinary conversations, I can look to them for invaluable feedback and inspiration that might not have been so readily available in another context.