/Abstracts of Research Projects/
Agata Chmiel (University of Illinois and ARCS Pre-Doctoral Fellow) The Geography of Conversion: Patterns of Religious Change in the Ottoman Balkans
My research project will analyze the conditions under which conversion to Islam occurred in the Rhodope Mountains during the early Ottoman period, 1450-1600. This region, straddling the border between modern-day Greece and Bulgaria, has been home to a population of Slavic-speaking, former-Christians who had converted to Islam after the Ottoman conquest. The mountain range and its surrounding plains was part of a broader process of Islamization, which takes into account the narrower notion of ‘conversion to Islam,’ but also includes the colonization of Muslims, the establishment of Islamic institutions, and the construction of Muslim cult buildings. The project will specifically focus on patterns of religious change, exploring possible connections between geography, administration and colonization. Of particular interest will be group patterns – married men versus bachelors and possible patterns among women through the lens of widows. Finally, patterns of religious, and perhaps ethnic, contact will be explored through an onomastic study of Christian Slavic-Greek and Muslim names. This projects seeks to understand what kind of patterns emerged within the conversion process as well why they emerged in certain areas of the Balkans and not others.
Stanimir Panayotov (Central European University and ARCS Pre-Doctoral Fellow) Disembodiment in Neoplatonism and New Realism
The subject of my project is the relation between genderand the body intwo cosmologies: those of Neoplatonismand New Realism. Neoplatonist philosophy raises challenging questions regarding human embodiment as part and parcel of the cognitive processes. This tradition has associated the female gender and female principles with embodiment (and consequently with evil). New realism is a contemporary continental philosophical field which to some extent addresses the problem of disembodied knowledge inherited from Neoplatonism, but at the same it also perpetuates it. One of the ways in which it does that is by often dismissing the relevance of gendered embodiment, bypassing the contributions of feminist work on history of philosophy. In both fields I identify what I call the problem of disembodiment. The significance of this problem is best expressed in the contemporary philosophical imaginary of new realism: that human cognition can finally be freed from the deceptiveness of sense data via scientific advancement. But in the process gendered embodiment is dismissed afresh. I claim the problem today in new realism is inherited from the cosmological theories traditionally associated with Neoplatonism and that this started with the reception of Plato’s Timaeus and his notion of chôra.
John Gorczyk (Cornell University and ARCS Pre-Doctoral Fellow) Beastly spaces: humans, animals, and the creation of place in Neolithic Bulgaria
My research investigates the place of animals in the Neolithic (6200-5000 BC) of southern Bulgaria in two distinct senses. The first is the physical location of animal communities in relation to human settlements, which I investigate using a combination of zooarchaeology, stable isotopic analysis, and the analysis of spherulites from animal dung found on Neolithic settlements. The second is a more taxonomic sense of place, referring to the proper place of animals in classificatory systems that structure relations between humans and the material and symbolic world, which I investigate using a contextual analysis of animal remains from settlements. The combination of these two senses of place constitute what animal geographers refer to as “imaginative geography”. The concept of imaginative geography provides a conceptual framework for moving beyond anthropocentric perspectives overly focused on the productive aspect of animal-human relations and allows for an understanding of how animals contribute to the creation of socially meaningful space. By bringing together multiple lines of material evidence as well as bodies of knowledge from archaeology, anthropology, and cultural geography, I hope to provide a fuller understanding of the place of animals in creating and maintaining Neolithic society in southern Bulgaria.