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26th ANNUAL SABBAGH LECTURE: Michael Gilsenan (New York University)


Feb 22 2018 - 7:00pm

Title: "Trust(s) in the Family: Entanglements of Capital, Culture, and Kin in the Arab Southeast Asian Diaspora in the 20th Century"

Thusday, February 22, 2018
7:00 p.m.
Tucson University Park Hotel

About the Speaker
Michael Gilsenan, a social and cultural anthropologist, is the David B. Kriser Professor in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University. He was previously the director of the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Professor Gilsenan studied at Oxford University (B.A. Oriental Studies; DPhil Social Anthropology). He was a lecturer and then reader in anthropology at University College London and the Khalid bin Abdullah al Saud Professor at Magdalen College, Oxford. Gilsenan’s doctoral work was about the sociology of Sufi orders in Egypt. He later spent two years in north Lebanon living in a village in the region of Akkar.

Gilsenan is currently researching the Hadhrami Arab diaspora in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, with a focus on law, inheritance, property, and family over multi generations in colonial and post-colonial contexts. He is also exploring the politics of imperial translations in Britain and China during 1880-1914. His writing has dealt with sociological approaches to the study of forms of Islam in the modern world.

About the Lecture
Arabs from the Hadhramaut area of Yemen have migrated to South and Southeast Asia for centuries. Gilsenan is studying the larger migrations from the 1870s on, of those who travelled or settled in what are now Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. How do migrants transmit goods, monies, and properties? How do they originate and reproduce cultural practices over the generations? How do often shifting ideas of ‘family,’ ‘blood,’ and morality intersect with colonial legal institutions as well as with changing forms of Sharia in the colonies from the later 19th century on?

One inheritance strategy until the Second WorldWar was to set up family trusts under English law, trusts whose funds usually have to be distributed to heirs some 75-85 years after their establishment. Conflicts over such trusts, as in America and Britain, are legion, the stuff of jokes, impassioned narratives, and wildly complicated documentations. Combine these entanglements with legal challenges to wills and we have all the material of family dramas across the generations and diasporic spaces that to this day play out in contemporary Singapore courts in which judges rule in terms of both Sharia and Singapore law.

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