DGLnotes: Studies on history, culture, and identity

This website is currently under construction.

Welcome to DGLnotes! This is the official professional website of D Gershon Lewental, the Schusterman visiting assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. On this website, I aim to host an ongoing discussion of various aspects of scholarship on the Middle East, focusing mainly on matters of identity and memory. Information about my publications, academic presentations, public talks, and more can also be found on this website. Please use the menu bar at the top of each page to navigate the website and please share your comments through the feedback tools.

I am a cultural historian of the Middle East, focusing on how societies use religion, memory, and conflict to define and maintain their identities. In my publications and in my classes, I explore this theme in various chronological and geographical contexts, and the scarlet thread running through my research is an attention to shared heritages and historical continuities, which I find in what appear to be contradictory narratives or unconnected cultures through a comparative and transnational approach. My primary academic background lies in early Islamic history, Iranian history, and Israeli society and I completed my doctorate on the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah, during the Arab-Muslim conquest of Iran and its changing perceptions through time. Please click here for a brief professional biography.

Notes and studies

  • Tajiki one-hundred somoni note depicting the Sāmānid ruler Esmāʿīl, emphasising the connexion between modern Tajikistan and the Ninth/Tenth-Century state.
    The Republic of Tajikistan came into being in late 1991 as a state with no historical precedent. Emerging from decades of secular Soviet political and cultural control, cut off from the Tajik heartland of Bukhōrō and Samarqand, and facing a potent challenge from a charismatic Islamist movement, the country faces a great need to construct a cohesive and durable national identity. Several options were and are available to the leaders of the country: an embrace of Iranian ethnic roots, a return to the Islamic tradition that had defined the region in in the pre-Soviet era, or a continuation of the pattern of Soviet society and civil religion. While any one may appear a logical choice, each path brings with it certain hazards. This article discusses these various identities available to the Tajik leadership and how the country has navigated a careful balance between them.
  • Early Islamic history and memory in radical Islamist discourse, 12 June 2013.
    Internet banner created by the Katāʾib Aḥrār ash-Shām (‘Freemen of Syria Battalions’), an Islamist group fighting in the Syrian civil war, depicting their cause as a ‘second’ Qādisiyyah.
    Radical Islamists hearken often to events, figures, and symbols from early Islamic history in their recruitment and mobilisation efforts. This short study examines the radical rhetoric regarding the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah and the imagined heroïne and rôle model al-Khansāʾ as examples of how radicals reinterpret history to further contemporary interests.
  • A Brief analysis of ‘Ṣaddām’s Qādisiyyah’, 19 July 2012.
    A Baghdād mural depicting Ṣaddām Ḥusayn surveying both the Seventh-Century and the ‘modern’ Battles of al-Qādisiyyah.
    The choice by Ṣaddām Ḥusayn (Saddam Hussein) to call his eight-year war with Iran ‘Ṣaddām’s Qādisiyyah’ was a deliberate effort to hearken back to the Seventh-Century Battle of al-Qādisiyyah during the Arab-Muslim conquest of Iran. This short study examines Ṣaddām’s manipulation of the memory of al-Qādisiyyah and how this discourse reflected an ‘Arab-Islamist’ idiom that allowed him and his régime to fuse religious and nationalist sentiment into one ideological discourse.
  • Rasmī or aslī?: Arabic and its impact on modern Israeli Hebrew, 27 January 2012.
    Artistic rendering of the Hebrew and Arabic words for ‘peace’, shālōm and salām, respectively, in a style demonstrating their graphic resemblance, against the backdrop of the Old City of Yāfō (Jaffa).
    The revival of Hebrew in recent times provides an interest case study of one language’s influence upon another. There are many similarities between Israeli Hebrew, on the one hand, and Modern Standard Arabic and Levantine Arabic, on the other. What are these similarities and what conclusions can we draw from them about the extent and manner of Arabic’s impact on Hebrew?
  • Primary sources on the Bajīlah’s ‘fourth’, 27 November 2011.
    al-Baṭḥā, a contemporary settlement in the Sawād, on the banks of the Euphrates River.
    During the Arab-Muslim conquest, numerous tribesman from Arabia settled the fertile land of central Iraq. A collection of reports regarding the specific case of the tribe of Bajīlah provide an opportunity for studying the narrative development of Islamic historiographical literature. This article presents primary source literature relating to the Bajīlah’s land claims.
  • Qādisiyyah in modern Middle Eastern discourse, 21 November 2005.
    Depiction of the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah from a manuscript of the Persian epic Shāh-nāmeh.
    The Battle of al-Qādisiyyah during the Arab-Muslim conquest of Iran in the 630s has since taken on a reputation of legendary proportions and its image today highlights the function of history and memory in the modern Middle East. From Ṣaddām Ḥusayn (Saddam Hussein) to al-Qāʿidah, Qādisiyyah is exploited for political uses, and the frequency of its nomenclature throughout the Muslim world exemplifies its continuing emotive power.
  • Morgan Shuster and the roots of Iran-US relations, forthcoming.
  • Ben-Yehūdāh’s ‘Sources to fill the lacunæ in our language’, forthcoming.
  • Bahāʾī studies section

    The Shrine of the Bāb in Ḥaifa, Israel.
    The Shrine of the Bāb in Ḥaifa, Israel. [Source: D Gershon Lewental (DGLnotes)]
    The Bahāʾī faith emerged in Iran during the mid-Nineteenth Century as a new religion within the Abrahamic monotheistic faith tradition, focusing on human unity and equality. Although the faith and its prophet-founder, Bahāʾ-Ollāh (also Baháʾuʾlláh, born Mīrzā Ḥusayn-ʿAlī Nūrī, 1817–1892) came from Iran, persecution brought them to ʿAkko (Acre) and Ḥaifa (Haifa) in Ottoman Palestine, where the leadership of the faith has remained ever since. For nearly a century, the families and descendants of Bahāʾ-Ollāh and many of his early followers continued to live and thrive in the land, as it passed from the Ottomans to the British to the Israelis. I have conducted extensive research on the relations between the Bahāʾī community and British, Jewish, and Israeli authorities at the Israel State Archives and present general information on the Bahāʾī faith, original studies, and primary sources and other resource materials here.

    Upcoming talks and lectures

    Please note that not all of these events are open to the general audience; please check with the organisers to confirm.
  • 27–29 October 2016—‘Iranians, Ottomans, and Europeans in the Nineteenth-Century entrepôt of Istanbul’ (9th annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa): Key Bridge Marriott Hotel, Washington, DC.
  • Past events ► click to expand