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Release: Oct. 7, 2002

UI professor to share historical perspectives on women in Asia, Middle East

Amid all the reports of turmoil in the Middle East and the specter of war with Iraq, it is easy to forget that real people are living their daily lives there in a region with a rich history of a once-peaceful coexistence among diverse peoples.

Jael Silliman, associate professor of women's studies, will talk about complexity of women's lives and the great cultural and religious diversity among people of the region in her presentation, "Jewish Women in India: Rethinking the Middle East," on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 10 a.m. in room 40 Schaeffer Hall. The discussion is part of the Saturday Scholars series, presented by the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Using stories dating back through four generations of women in her own family, Silliman will illustrate the diversity and tolerance that characterized Jewish Asia. Her great-grandmother left Iraq for India in the 19th century, dramatically impacting the lives of future generations of women in her family. Through extensive travels from Iraq to Shanghai, Baghdadi Jewish women like Silliman's great-grandmother played key roles in building and sustaining community across vast geographic distances and amidst the sweeping historical and political changes of the 19th and 20th centuries.

"By looking at the lives of everyday people in this region, we gain insight into a part of the world we know very little about," Silliman said. "We see that people's lives and their everyday concerns are not so different from ours and we can find comfort in that level of familiarity."

Silliman's family provides an example of globalization and multiculturalism decades before those became the buzzwords of the late 20th century. Her family's experiences across cultures and continents offer a unique standpoint from which to examine the ways in which religious, ethnic, and gender identities enrich contemporary concerns regarding the meanings of identity and "home" in our increasingly interconnected world.

A member of the UI College of Liberal Arts & Sciences since 1997, Silliman focuses on women's roles in creating and maintaining diaspora communities, women's movements for social change and the development of critical approaches to women's studies. She is the author of "Jewish Portraits, Indian Frames: Women's Narratives from a Diaspora of Hope" and co-edited "Dangerous Intersections: Feminist Perspectives on Population, Environment and Development" and "Policing The National Body: Race, Gender and Criminalization."

Upcoming lectures in the Saturday Scholars series include:

Oct. 26 "Just Beneath My Skin: Autobiography and Self-Discovery," Patricia Foster, associate professor of English

Nov. 9 "The Neanderthal Mystery: Who Were They and Why Did They Disappear?" Robert Franciscus, assistant professor of anthropology

All presentations will begin at 10 a.m. in room 40 Schaeffer Hall, the southeast building on the UI Pentacrest. Each session will last about an hour, including a 20-30 minute presentation followed by a question-and-answer session. Refreshments will be served.

Additional information is available at

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in advance at 335-2610.