Student Research

Student Research

This page contains details of the doctoral research students currently working within the Faculty of Oriental Studies. The list below gives their name, the topic of their research, and, where available, a brief abstract, organised by geographical area.

Near and Middle East     South and Inner Asia     East Asia

Near and Middle East

Rowena Abdul Razak British Policy and the Tudeh Party of Iran, 1941-1953

Both British presence in Iran and the Tudeh Party (Party of the Masses) have a complex place in 20th Century Iranian history. For the first time, this doctoral thesis will examine the position of the Tudeh Party in British policy making from the start of the Anglo-Soviet Occupation (1941-1946) until the 1953 coup. Using the Tudeh Party as a barometer of British decision-making in Iran, it might be possible to track and chart the new considerations and factors that affected British presence in the country. This is an attempt to systematically study the development of British psyche in Iran during a particularly eventful period in Iranian and global history: the start of the Cold War, the end of empire, the rise of American presence in the region, and the Iranian struggle against imperial dominance. It is hoped to show that as these factors became more prominent, Britain began to see the Tudeh as more and more of a threat, which is reflected in their foreign policy towards Iran.


Muneera Al Khalifa - Narratives of Exclusion: National Identity and Citizenship in Bahrain

In this research, I aim to present a narrative of the process of nation building in Bahrain—to further analyze it, interrogate it, and capture an aspect of its complexity. By focusing on the years following Bahrain’s independence from Britain in 1971, I examine the period of nation building with the introduction of a constitution, and the dissolution of a short-lived parliament after two years of operation. The hypothesis underlying this thesis project is that the dominant historical narrative does not mirror historic memories that are integral to the pluralistic Bahraini identity. The central argument is advanced by examining the recent efforts in promoting national cohesion through civic education, which portrays a continuum of exclusions that omit shared histories. More so, the newly introduced civic education courses lead to further polarizations in portraying exclusivist images of national heritage and culture. By consulting archival material, oral narratives, and secondary sources, I aim to question the official historical narrative and show the polarized versions of history that can occur when such exclusions take place.  


Belal Abo-Alabbas - The Life and Works of Muḥammad b. Ismāʿīl al-Bukhārī with Reference to Hadith Criticism

This research examines al-Bukhārī’s (d.870) personal and scholarly life with reference to his contributions to Islamic theology, law and, above all, hadith scholarship. Through examining Bukhārī, the project will assess the consistency of hadith critics in the 9th century.

Research interests: Islamic History; Hadith & Islamic Law; Sufism; Islamic Education
Belal also worked as a tutor of Islamic Religion & Arabic at the Oriental Institute.”


Kira Allmann - Occupying Egypt: The Mediated Politics of Online and Offline Protest Spaces in the Aftermath of the 2011 Uprising (Working Title)

My research examines the interaction between online and offline political activism in Egypt.  Egyptian ICT users experience a perpetual interaction of virtual and physical communication, spaces and activities, and it is in the everyday nature of these traversals that they are capable of constituting a site, tool and community of sustained resistance. My doctoral research delves into the ways that ICT use throughout the Arab Spring in Egypt has been a profoundly spatial phenomenon; digital technologies are rooted in specific contexts and users' practices that exert influences on the technologies themselves, and the virtual spaces opened up to ICT users reshape the offline spaces and places of their physical locales. Thus, Cairo has an ever-expanding digital geography, charted in the negotiation of this online-offline dialectic.

My thesis is structured around case studies, based on fieldwork, interviews and digital content analysis conducted between 2011 and 2014, providing unique insight into how the physical mobility and movement of activists in Egypt's public spaces interacts with an ICT-enabled mobility to create hybridised forms of resistance and transgression. The case studies range from exploring the role of mobile phones in ‘witnessing’ and ‘mapping’ events during street protests to the subtle subversions facilitated by online photo-sharing during a government-imposed curfew. This exploration of Egyptian activists’ quotidian mobility between the online and the offline suggests that there is much of the ordinary in the revolutionary. 


Umberto Bongianino - The origin and development of Maghribi round scripts: Arabic palaeography in the Muslim West (10th - 12th centuries)

My research focuses on the palaeography and stylistic features of the earliest Arabic manuscripts (both Islamic and Mozarab) produced in the Far Maghrib and al-Andalus. I am particularly interested in the social and cultural factors lying behind the numerous scribal idiosyncrasies found in the written documents from this region: calligraphic styles, notation systems, textual layout, colophons, decorative devices, but also codicological aspects such as parchment and paper production, the composition of quires, binding techniques, etc. My thesis is based on the comparative analysis of around 150 dated Maghribi manuscripts now kept in European, North African, and Middle Eastern libraries. They form a heterogeneous corpus – from Qurʾanic codices to works of Maliki jurisprudence, history, medicine, astrology, and poetry – which I have arranged in a database according to special palaeographic criteria, hoping to highlight the chronological development and regional variations of Maghribi scripts, and more in general, of the Arts of the Book in the Islamic West.


Emilie Francois - The Movement for Unicity and Reform: A social movement approach

Haraka at-Tawhid wa al Islah, the Movement for Unicity and Reform is one of the largest islamic social movements in Morocco today. It is the movement which launched the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), the largest Islamic political opposition movement in the parliament and has associations working in all fields of society, from education, to prozelitism, to trade unions and women’s rights. A social movement theory approach will seek to outline the movement’s history, organisation and ideological outlook and situate them within historical developments, including broader movements, nationally and internationally. A detailed analysis of the movement will aim to contribute to the literature on Islamic social movements more broadly, notably their roots, aims and objectives, and evolution.


Ann-Katrin Gill - The Hieratic Ritual Books of Pawerem (P. BM EA 10252 and P. BM EA 10081) from the late 4th century BC

My dissertation project focuses on the translation and commentary of two unpublished Egyptian ritual handbooks, kept today in the British Museum: P. BM EA 10252 and P. BM EA 10081. Both papyri are inscribed in hieratic with some demotic glosses. They come from a Theban temple library and are dated to the late fourth century BC. The texts were originally composed for the cult of Osiris, the god of the netherworld, in order to restore him to life, after his brother Seth killed him. During the annual Osiris-mysteries, his fate was symbolically re-enacted and his assembling and revivification were celebrated. As he was in constant danger of a second death, caused by his brother, a collection of magical defence and protection rites existed, of which the aforementioned papyri are the main representatives. These were later adapted as funerary texts for the benefit of the deceased Pawerem, who integrated them into his tomb library. Among the known Osirian ritual handbooks, the two BM-papyri are unique, not only because of their length and variety of texts, but also their abundance of later annotations and glosses. Thus, they are a treasure trove for grammar, palaeography, and lexicography.


Katherine Griffis - Indicators of ritual movement in the Daily Ritual on Egyptian monuments of the New Kingdom

The daily ritual, designed to wake, dress, and feed a deity within his or her sanctuary, is a consistent theme during the New Kingdom, where representations of the ritual are to be found in more than a dozen monuments during this period.  How the ritual is structured, as to order, has been examined several times, but how the ritual was performed, as to movement within the sanctuary space, has not.

This thesis examines the history and structure of the daily ritual in monuments of the New Kingdom, from its Thutmosid origins to its zenith during the Ramessid period. As part of this study, a proposed theory on determining the ritual performance through use of icons exhibited in the rite is described.


Laura Hawkins - The Third Millennium Syrian Cuneiform Syllabary and the Adaptation of Cuneiform to Write Semitic

My thesis focuses on the similarities and differences between the linguistic and lexicographic features attested in the Semitic-language texts from the Mesopotamian “core” and the Syrian “periphery” in the late third millennium BC. I am tracking how the spread of cuneiform into Syria occurred and how it was adapted to meet the needs of its non-Sumerian and, perhaps, non-Akkadian speakers, with a particular focus on the earliest phases of adaptation.  The primary goal of my thesis is to create a Syrian cuneiform syllabary and sign list, which will be accomplished through the compilation of the different syllabaries of Tuttul, Nabada, Ebla, and Mari and will compared with Old Akkadian.  The secondary goal of my research is to document the linguistic features of the Semitic dialects attested in these third millennium Syrian texts.  The linguistic data gathered from the syllabically written lexemes will be analyzed in order to compare them with other better-attested Semitic languages, such as Akkadian, Eblaite, and Ugaritic.  


Aly Lela - Flexibility of Shari’ah, Practical Implementation in The West

The Muslim community in the West is undergoing a unique experience where the adage “Shari’ah is a comprehensive way of life and is relevant and applicable in all times and places” is being strongly tested. The question of the ability of the Western secular sociopolitical and legal systems to accommodate a specific religious legal system is debated deeply in the fields of sociology and political science. Few studies, however, have addressed the other side of the question, i.e. examining the flexibility of Sharia, and the extent to which it can acclimate to the perpetually changing social norms especially in Western secular societies.

This study aims to examine the flexibility of Shari’ah and its functionality in the West. It will look at the different definitions of Sharia, its sources, scope and the role of its high objectives as philosophy of Islamic law. It will also explore the dissection of legal authority in Shari’ah between God and humans and how this dichotomy stimulates the adjustability of the Islamic legal system through examining both theoretical and practical aspects of Shari’ah.

This study is divided into two parts; the first part consists of the first four chapters that provide the theoretical framework of the study. Chapter one treats the various definitions, the sources and the scope of Shari’ah. Chapter two addresses the issue of divinity and humanity aspects of Shari’ah and the implications of making the distinction between them. Chapter three tackles the subject of the higher objectives of Shari’ah from both historical and analytical perspectives. Chapter four will address the opportunities and the challenges facing the Muslim community in the West.

Part two will present case studies in three central areas- Citizenship, Muslim Family Law, and Muslim bioethics- with the intention of investigating the dynamism of the Islamic legal system in the Western context and how Muslim jurists produce new legal adjudications in these areas. The study will survey, analyze and evaluate the Islamic legal opinions made by the Muslim jurists in these three areas.


Ryan J. LynchBetween the Conquests and the Court: A Critical Analysis of al-Balādhurī and his Kitāb Futūḥ al-Buldān

The ninth century CE works of the historian al-Balādhurī provide modern scholars with some of the earliest surviving written accounts of the foundational period of Islamic history. While much has been written over the last century on the author’s Ansāb al-Ashrāf, the Kitāb Futūḥ al-Buldān has never before had a monograph dedicated to its study despite its use as by most historians looking for information on this early period. 

Of his two surviving works, the Futūḥ outlines the period of the early Islamic conquests, and provides a unique focus on how cities and regions were conquered as well as subsequently administered. al-Balādhurī’s work is genre-defying, both in its organization and the material he chooses to focus on, setting the work apart from its historical contemporaries. My work is an analysis of the structure, content, and composition of the text, discussing the genre of conquest literature more generally, working to identify why the author includes (and excludes) the information he does, and how the organization of the text helps develop the overarching themes and issues the author intended to portray.


Leyla Masma Najaf-Zada - : “Caucasian Albania from Late Antiquity to Early Islam: the transition of Caucasian Albania from autonomous Christian kingdom to province of the Muslim Empire.” 

This Doctoral thesis intends to bring together all the relevant existing evidence (principally in Arabic and Armenian) about the history of Caucasian Albania in the period ca. 300-900 AD.  It will make note of what we know from Greco-Roman sources, but the latter are few and so it will take as its main starting point the arrival of Christianity in Caucasian Albania, the religious transformation the region underwent in the fourth-fifth centuries A.D. and the period of Islamic presence that started in the seventh century A.D. This thesis will therefore aim at a critical assessment of the information provided by literary sources and such numismatic and archaeological evidence as has been gathered so far in order to understand the transformation of Caucasian Albania from autonomous Christian kingdom to a part of the Muslim Empire. The questions of the role of Albania in the Caucasus, its close and at times controversial relationship with neighboring Armenia from the time of late antiquity to the coming of Islam and later, including the role of Sasanian and Muslim policies, will all be dealt with in this work.

This thesis will be original in two main ways.  Firstly, it will deconstruct both the primary and the secondary sources on Caucasian Albania. The latter will be subjected to a literary critique, in particular bearing in mind the frequently mythopoeic forces that have shaped them.  The secondary writings of modern Russian and Azeri authors have been substantially influenced by communist and nationalist ideologies and I will try to expose the ways in which these have distorted our knowledge of Caucasian Albania’s history.  Secondly, this thesis will have an opportunity to review the results of the latest archaeological works that are about to start in the ancient capital of Caucasian Albania, Bardhaʿa, and it is to be hoped that this will bring fresh data, allowing us to revise our thinking about the history of this ancient realm.


Manon Schutz - Sleep, Beds, and Death in Ancient Egypt

Not only in the Greek mythology were Hypnos and Thanatos seen as brothers, even twins, but the close connection between sleep and death was part of the Egyptian conception as well. The reason for this frequent assimilation is the similar features of both phenomena: Neither the sleeper nor the deceased are able to speak, hear, see, eat, and move. The aim of my doctoral thesis is, thus, to analyse the presence of beds and– though more marginally – other sleep-related objects in the funerary context of Egypt from Predynastic times to the Roman Period. To give some examples, I would like to investigate – through beds depicted in paintings, reliefs, as archaeological artefacts, or mentioned in texts – since when this symbolism of death as sleep is manifest, how important this idea was for Egyptian religious beliefs, and whether a constant development direction and geographical distribution pattern is recognisable. Furthermore, I intend to compare these beds with specimina used in the divine sphere like e.g. temple furniture and those rendered on temple walls. At the end, I hope to be able to present a picture of beds in the funerary context of Egypt that is as complete as possible.


Fatemeh Shams Esmaeili - Transformation of Ideology in Post-Revolutionary Persian Poetry: Case Study of Qaysar Aminpour

Scholarly works in the field of Persian poetry, particularly in the Western academic world are mostly confined to detailed research on renowned classical Persian poets such as Rumi, Hāfez and Saʿdi  and famous modern poets such as Ahmad Shāmlu, Forugh Farrokhzād and Sohrāb Sepehri. Moreover, when such literary criticism reaches the revolutionary era, they seem to have merely narrowed their focus to concentrate only on leftist trends within the Iranian literary culture .

Attention to post-revolutionary Persian poetry and the analysis of prominent poets of this literary epoch has been largely neglected in both Persian-speaking and non-Persian-speaking academia. Although the relationship between the ideology of the pre-revolutionary ruling system and the literary works of the poets and writers of that era has been tackled in a number of academic works , the significant relationship between the ruling ideology and literature during the post-revolutionary period has not received the attention it deserves. This DPhil thesis attempts to shed light on this relationship with specific reference to the early life and poetry of Qaysar Aminpur.


Jose Vericat - An analysis of the internal debates within the Palestinian Islamic movement 

Muslim politics are not monolithic. Hamas is a movement that has a specific agenda, different from other Islamic movements. Also the values and motivations that Hamas acts according to are not all rooted in Islam. Further, its doctrine changes depending on the situation as well as over time, though often it tries to justify such modifications within a religious framework. As I analyze the decisions the movement makes and the discussions around these I pay particular attention to the use of religious references, and the different functions that they serve. I try to show that there is a heated internal debate, a wide variety of opinions struggling with each other to define values and shape the movement. I also trace the origins of these discussions to debates in Islamic intellectual history. My overall aim is to decode the religious, political and philosophical underpinnings of Hamas and by doing so to throw some light on the relation between religion and politics in political Islam in general.  


Jonathan Wright - After antiquity: Joseph and Aseneth in manuscript transmission. A case study for engaging with what came after the original version of Jewish Pseudepigrapha.

The story of Joseph and Aseneth expands a few verses from the book of Genesis into a novella-length work. In recent years, the story has attracted considerable scholarly attention.  In particular, interest has focused on questions of authorship, whether the 'longer' or 'shorer' version of the text has priority, and what this means for questions of interpretation.  Numerous articles have focused on particular details of the text in the context of Second Temple or post-70CE Judaism, or early Christianity.  In short, Joseph and Aseneth has increasingly become a mine for comparison founded on the assumption (explicit or not) that its origins and text are sufficiently established.  With the notable exception of Burchard's Der jüdische Asenethroman und seine Nachwirkung, I believe that insufficient attention has been paid to the transmission of Joseph and Aseneth. and how this should influence the way the text is read today.

The aim of this thesis is to present how Joseph and Aseneth was transmitted in different times and places, and to consider the implications of this for understanding the story.  I propose two points: first, that later versions are of interest in their own right; and secondly, that scholars using any edition of the text as the 'earliest achievable form' need to appreciate the influences affecting the text during transmission.  Starting from a text-critical and manuscript context investigation, I argue that the story's transmission probably depended upon different emphases at different times, for example, as: exegesis; a spiritually beneficial text showing good ascetical practice; exhortatory or satisfying reading.


South and Inner Asia

Greg Seton - The Transcendence of Wisdom in 8,000 lines according to Ratnākaraśānti

Ratnākaraśānti (eleventh century) is one of the most important systematizers of Mahāyāna Buddhist thought. His magnum opus, known as The Quintessence (Sāratamā) is one of the two most important commentaries on the oldest Mahāyāna scriptures, known as Transcendence of Wisdom in 8,000 lines (Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā). Since it has never been translated into a Western language nor studied in depth by a Western scholar, I will present a new Sanskrit critical edition and annotated translation, with an detailed study of this work, based on a philological comparison of eleventh and thirteenth century Sanskrit manuscripts and the eleventh century Tibetan translations.  In my analysis, I will also identify the particular features of Ratnākaraśānti’s unique interpretation and track their unacknowledged, yet formidable, influence on subsequent Buddhist thinkers in both India and Tibet.

East Asia

Marshall Craig - Worldview and National Identity in China, Korea and Japan: a transnational microhistory of the Imjin War, 1592-1598

In 1592 Japanese forces landed on the Korean peninsula with the express intent of no less than capturing Beijing and replacing China as the political and cultural hegemon of the known world.  The result was a devastating war involving China, Korea, and Japan, that had profound social, economic, political, and even linguistic ramifications.  The conflict represented a clash of worldviews and of communities.  As a powerful instance of international interaction, it offers a window through which to view perceptions of the country and of the world in pre-modern East Asia.

Building on the vast body of diaries, letters, and histories left to us by participants in the war from all three countries, my research looks at how polity, territory and culture were perceived as elements of group identity.   I combine linguistic analysis of groups of texts with case studies of individual witness accounts in order to capture the diversity of worldview demonstrated by writers from different areas and social positions – from the supreme commander to the slave.   The project will give contextualised and well-evidenced insight into changing ideas of the international order and of the nation in the era prior to the rise of nationalism in China, Korea, and Japan.


Yuen Lai Winnie Chan - Garden Culture of Qing Dynasty China


Yegor Grebnev - The Core Chapters of the Yi Zhou Shu

My doctoral research, supervised by Professor Dirk Meyer, is focused on the Yi Zhou shu 逸周書, a textual collection over 2000 years old that is very difficult to describe using conventional terms and labels. It clearly does not match any of the alleged “schools of thought” of the Warring States China, and its 59 heterogeneous chapters have dissimilar features reminiscent of different textual traditions. In my Oxford project, I identify a group of some 15 compositionally related texts within the collection and attempt to explain their possible use contexts and their importance in antiquity. In my research, I rely, among other methods, on structural analysis and critical comparison with epigraphic evidence. Being very interested in cross-cultural research of ancient textuality, I have initiated the Early Text Cultures seminar in Oxford.
Before coming to Oxford as a Clarendon scholar, I completed my bachelor’s (2010) and master’s (2012) degrees at Moscow State University and studied at Peking University in 2008-09 and 2011.


Rens Krijgsman - The Textualization of Cultural Memory in Early Chinese Manuscripts

This project analyses textual strategies for presenting arguments during the mid-late Warring States Period (ca. 350-280 BCE) in Early China. These texts preserved on bamboo manuscripts show several distinct patterns of mediating specific arguments through their selective adoption of generic, intertextual, and culturally prescribed methods of knowledge construction. A fundamental but often overlooked tension exists between latter day, imperial constructions and categorizations of texts and intellectual affiliations on the one hand, and shared cultural narrative on the other hand. My project examines how different types of manuscript texts mediate this tension by looking into their textual, material and meta-textual characteristics. Accordingly, it challenges long standing assumptions on textuality, literacy, memory culture and transmission and proposes a new paradigm for conceptualizing knowledge production. 


Edward Luper - Muddy Waters: Political Tensions and Identity in the Writings of Xu Wei (1521-1593)”

The late Ming artist and poet Xu Wei (1521-1593) is famous for his several suicide attempts, the murder of his third wife, and his expressive ink paintings and calligraphy. Since the 16th century, his colourful biography has become a hagiography turning him into the patron-saint of eccentrics in late imperial China. My thesis reconsiders this narrative of the anti-institutional eccentric. By examining Xu's writings within the political tensions and struggles of his day, we can see another Xu Wei: one who represented himself as a "scholar of the realm". Far from being the Daoist non-conformist, I show a politically engaged Xu Wei who admired strong, martial emperors and who used history poetry to cast himself as a didactic Confucian historian to creatively explore issues of conflicted loyalty that plagued him. I hope the study will shed greater light on the construction of personas in Chinese cultural history.


Lik Hang Tsui 徐力恒 - The Social and Cultural Uses of Letters in Imperial China: Focusing on Developments in Southern Song (1127-1279)

This doctoral dissertation will focus on how elites in Song China exchanged political and personal information by sending letters to others and how the genre of letters was transformed by writers. The writing of personal letters has been an archaic practice in China’s history, yet epistolary practices were never stagnant and had a considerable impact on the culture and social exchanges of the literatus. By analyzing epistolary manuals (shuyi 書儀 and the like), extant manuscript letters, engraved calligraphy models (fatie法 帖), and transmitted texts from collections from the Southern Song dynasty, this dissertation will show that letters has not only become an increasingly important genre at that time, but has also become more involved in the construction of a common knowledge and the transmission of philosophical and religious ideas. This research seeks to contribute to our understanding of underexplored epistolary sub-genres in the Chinese literary tradition and to shed light on the social history of epistolary communication.