Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Columbia University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Columbia University
Death is Everywhere: War and Mourning in Najaf and Karbala

This project seeks to map the relationship between a set of religious beliefs and practices surrounding death, and the experience of war. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the rise to power of the country's long-repressed Shi'i majority, the southern Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala have been thrust into global spotlight as the religious centers of the ruling establishment. These war-torn cities are home to the tombs of 'Ali and Husayn, the foundational figures of Shi'i Islam, and attract millions of visitors culminating in the annual re-enactment of the 7th century martyrdom of Husayn on the battlefields of Karbala. Yet in recent decades, these ancient religious centers of pilgrimage and ritualized mourning have also become sites of combat fighting, armed insurgency, and targeted sectarian attack. How do followers of a tradition organized around the remembrance of a sanctified dead, confront war – that which places death at the forefront of social relations? Through thirteen months of fieldwork in Najaf and Karbala, I intend to map the relationship between religious doctrines of death and everyday practice, forms of private grief versus public mourning, and the different ways local deaths are narrated in popular discourse. My project builds on a longstanding social-scientific interest in how societies experience collective tragedy and intimate loss, bringing accounts of contemporary Iraq into conversation with anthropological analyses of death and Islam. In doing so, I extend ethnographic attention to a location that remains both vastly understudied in the literature of the region, and politically potent.