Harvard Divinity School

It's been a while since I updated this blog, and a lot has happened! Despite being dead set on a PhD program, I have ended up pursuing a master's degree at Harvard Divinity School. I came in as an Masters of Theological Studies student, HDS's version of an MA. However, just a few short months into the program, I realized that academia is not the career path I'm looking for right now, and I ended up switching to the Masters of Divinity (MDiv) degree instead. The MDiv is a practically-focused degree, with a Field Education component and a required Introduction to Ministry Course. This semester, I'm really enjoying exploring the concept of ministry, broadly defined, and trying to figure out what my personal ministry is - I do not feel called to become ordained! I'm also exploring new things in my courses, including theology, which I have not read much of in the past. I'm really loving HDS and all the new things I am learning and doing. Who knows where this will lead?

AAR conference and applying to PhD programs

I attended the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in Chicago in November. Even though I arrived with a sinus infection and had to miss out on the Islamic Studies workshop I had signed up for, the conference was a great experience. I attended two sessions relevant to my topic, one on Negotiating Muslim Identities and Representations and one on Everyday Islam and Ethnographic Methods. Both were very interesting and gave me a lot of insight into the field as it currently stands. I also attended a session out of personal interest - Monsters Among Us, about religion in popular narratives of zombies, ghosts, and vampires.

While the conference felt a bit lonely at times, since I wasn't reconnecting with fellow students or colleagues, I'm looking forward to attending other annual meetings in the future. The Exhibit Hall full of new books by publishers alone was enough to excite my nerdy heart!

I've taken this year off in order to recharge my brain and apply to PhD programs. I'm very excited to go back to school and jump into my research again, but I also know that my brain has been in school since I was 4 years old and it needed a little break. Now I've turned in the applications to 3 of the 5 programs I'm applying to, and soon it will just be a matter of waiting. The application process has been a little stressful--how do I portray myself in a way that is attractive to schools? How do I play up my strengths and convince them that my lack of an MA degree is okay and even an asset? How do I talk about quoting professors in my thesis without seeming like I'm pandering? I've always had a hard time writing about myself and I've been struggling a lot with my personal statements. Luckily my mother, a college professor who used to be a freelance editor, has been helpful in reading my drafts, and a lot of other people have been very nice about reading and providing their advice. Once one was done, the rest could be modified to be like it, so I've been slowly finishing up. The last two are due on January 1st, and I'm hoping to get them done before so that I can go into 2013 with no commitments!

My thesis is complete!

After a quarter in Oxford, a summer in New York, a lot of interviewing, transcribing, researching, reading, and writing ... my thesis is finally bound, turned in, presented, and graded! It's been an intense process that's spanned a number of years and a lot of emotional ups and downs. A lot of people have helped carry me through this, and I will forever be grateful.

My undergraduate career is practically over, and I'm excited to take a year and step away from academics for a bit, and then jump back into it pretty soon. Maybe I'll chronicle my grad school application process here...

I'm also now officially a member of the American Academy of Religion, and will be going to the conference in November, which I'm very excited about.

Here's to a new chapter of life!

A Day in the Life of a Hijabi

The Stanford Muslim Students Awareness Network (MSAN) hosted "A Day in the Life of a Hijabi" today, which they describe as follows: "This day of activism challenges Stanford females to wear a scarf around their head in solidarity with the right of women to choose, as an opportunity to explore a culture that many times is portrayed as “foreign,” and to make a stance against the rising number of discrimination and employment cases in which women who wear the hijab are prevented from applying for certain jobs within the United States. The day also incorporates the support of Stanford males by providing them with a free pink t-shirt (with the slogan “It’s about what’s in your head, not on it”) and asking them to wear said shirt on the awareness day in increased solidarity. Pick up a free headscarf (women) and t-shirt (men) in White Plaza on Thursday, December 1 from 11:30-1:30 in White Plaza. Then wear them all day around campus on December 2 in solidarity with women who choose to wear hijab every day." There is dinner and discussion afterwards. I decided to participate -  I wanted to last year but was abroad and just totally forgot. I went by yesterday and picked up a t-shirt and scarf. I wore the scarf very simply, just draped over my head and tied under my chin ("Think Jackie O," the girl who gave me the scarf said."

Photo on 2011-12-02 at 13.02 #3
Photo on 2011-12-02 at 13.02 #3

I spent most of today holed up in my room doing work, because that's what my Fridays are like, but I was out on campus a little, running around doing errands.

The main thing I noticed was how self-conscious wearing the hijab made me. I was convinced that people were staring, which some of them probably were, but most of them probably just didn't really care or notice - not in a bad way, just that they had no reason to care that I was wearing a scarf on my head. But I think the fact that it's something different to me, and something that not a lot of other people are wearing, made me feel like I was being singled out for staring.

It was a cool experience. I'm sorry to be missing the dinner but maybe I can do this again sometime!

Alcohol and networking

Another interesting thread I'm finding throughout my interviews is about alcohol. Many observant Muslims do not drink alcohol, including the women I have interviewed. However, beyond not drinking alcohol themselves, many do not feel comfortable in situations where alcohol is present, avoiding sitting at tables where people are drinking, or attending events held in bars. This is a personal, religious choice, but it makes it difficult for the women to network or socialize with coworkers or fellow students when events include alcohol, and they often miss out on events. Some people may think that it is enough to provide non-alcoholic drinks for them to enjoy, but many still do not feel comfortable in these settings. It's something to think about - holding events in varied locations to make sure everyone feel comfortable. This might get its own section in my thesis, because I think it's an interesting example of these women trying to balance being Muslim and being American.

Back to work!

I'm back on campus for Honors College, two and a half weeks for getting a head start on writing the honors thesis. There are 90 of us from different departments. Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Ethics in Society are combined into one group. Over this time, I have to turn in a 5 page prospectus of the thesis, and I'm also going to be doing a lot of other work, including some reading, writing brainstorming, and more interviews. I did another interview today, and it was fascinating. Going back to the common thread about marriage, I asked her if she would have considered marrying a non-Muslim man (she is already married). Maybe, she said, but there was too much family pressure to marry a Muslim man...so instead, the man she married converted to Islam. Her father had done the same thing.

This fascinates me because it's completely the opposite of the stereotype that women convert to marry Muslim men, but you would think we would see this more often, since technically Muslim men can marry Muslim, Jewish, or Christian women, while Muslim women are supposed to marry Muslim men.

I'm excited to look into this more, and to start really getting to work on my thesis in the next couple weeks.

Radio appearance

I was on the radio today! A friends mom is the host of the Doctor Radio show "Nurse Practitioner," which runs once a month on the station, which is at the NYU Medical Center. This month, her show was on cultural considerations in providing good health care, and after hearing about my summer work, she invited me to be a guest! The show runs for two hours, and I was on for the second half, along with the social worker she works with, and a phone-in guest from LA who is also a nurse. During the second hour, we talked primarily about Muslim families, but used that to branch out to talking about all sorts of people from various backgrounds.

I'm honored that she asked me to be a guest. I don't feel like I'm an expert about Muslim women, and I certainly know very little about healthcare and patient care. But I managed to draw conclusions from my research and talk about things like not stereotyping, understanding that women may not be comfortable with male doctors or nurses, and keeping in mind things like Ramadan and dietary restrictions. And I felt so official, with big headphones on and a giant mic in front of me, complete with a "cough" button to push to mute the mic.

It was a lot of fun, and I'm thankful to Nurse Chibbaro for having me on!

Arab American Association of New York

Yesterday, I went out to the Arab American Association of New York, which is in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn. It was fairly empty because it was the second day of Ramadan, a time when schedules get flipped around and many people become almost nocturnal. I still got a chance to look around and talk to some people. I did three mini-interviews with women there, really just prompting them to tell me their take on what its like to be a Muslim woman living in the United States.

One woman, 31, was born in the US but had lived most of her childhood in Palestine, then moved back at age 21, married and with a child, to Louisiana, and then to NYC.

One was 20 and had grown up in Brooklyn her whole life. She now only wears her headcovering when she comes home to her old neighborhood.

One was 43, a little older than my demographic, so I'm not sure I'll be using her. She just moved to the US 2 years ago, though, and had only lived and worked within the Arab/Muslim community since being here, so she had a different take on things as well.

I had one other short interview with a white, non-Muslim man. At first glance, this interview makes no sense in the scheme of things, but it actually fits well. He is in charge of the youth programs at the center, teaching SAT prep courses but also helping the youth get involved in activism. It was great to get his perspective on working with the youth and what that means.

It was a really productive day, and I got to talk to women who were pretty different from the ones I've been speaking to in Manhattan. I really appreciated the opportunity!


The most interesting common thread through my 5 interviews thus far: each woman has said, basically unequivocally, that she wouldn't consider marrying a non-Muslim man. I expected it to some level - that's why the question exists on my list. But I was unprepared for the unanimity of it. It is the one question, besides "Do you consider yourself Muslim?" that is answered abruptly and mostly without explanation or clarification. I think this is partly because of the idea (I have to research and find out to what extent it is a rule/law - where it shows up, who said it, etc) in Islam that Muslim women can only marry Muslim men, while Muslim men can only marry people of the book. I suspect in the historical context this was because the men tended to have more say in the family, so having a Muslim father was pretty much a guarantee that the children would be Muslim. Though it would be interesting to see a Muslim man and Jewish woman, since Judaism is passed matrilineally.

I'm curious to see what my other interviewees have to say, but this is definitely going to be a section of thesis, probably along with some other "Family" stuff.