By Vida Samiian
The Middle East Studies program at Fresno State will host its first Edward Said Lecture Series this fall honoring the late Palestinian-American literary theorist and public intellectual who made significant contributions to the critical theory field of post-colonialism. The series opened with a lecture by Professor David Lloyd of UC Riverside on Sept. 25, the anniversary of Said’s untimely death in 2003. Lloyd spoke on the “The Responsibility of the Public Intellectual after Edward Said,” a theme discussed by Said in many of his writings.
Described as the Palestinian people’s “most powerful voice” by journalist Robert Fisk, Said is best known for his 1978 book Orientalism, in which he analyzes the cultural misrepresentation and patronizing perception of Middle Eastern, Asian and North African societies by Western Imperial powers. He contends that Orientalist scholarship is inextricably tied to the imperialist societies that produce it, making much of the work inherently political, servile to power, and thus intellectually suspect. Said’s works have had a transformative impact, not only on Middle East studies but also on literary and critical theory and post-colonial studies.
Dr. Nadia Latif of Georgia State University will speak on “Orientalism: Its Genealogies and its Legacies” on Oct. 12.
On Oct. 26, Professor R. Radhakrishnan of UC Irvine’s School of Humanities will address “Edward Said: The Non-Humanist Humanist.”
Closing the series on Nov. 6 will be a conference titled Universities at the Crossroad: The Assault on Academic Freedom. The conference will feature Dr. Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. His talk, titled “Edward Said’s Humanism and the Rejection of the State Department’s Definition of Anti-Semitism,” sheds light on recent attacks on academic freedom on university campuses on matters related to criticism of Israel.
Another speaker at the conference will be Azadeh Shahshahani, president of the National Lawyers Guild, a legal organization with significant involvement in defending students, faculty and scholars who have been victimized for voicing criticism against Israel and advocating for boycott and divestment.
The lecture series is cosponsored by a number of social justice groups in the community and is open and free to the public. It is a rare occasion to locally engage with scholars and thinkers on the Middle East.
Vida Samiian, Ph.D., is a professor of linguistics at Fresno State. Contact her at vidas@ csufresno.edu.