Interview with Dr. Timur Hammond 


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Would you give us a summary of your educational and professional background, your activities, and your research?

I joined the Department of Geography at Syracuse University in Fall 2017. Prior to joining the department, I was an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Geography in 2016-17. I am trained as a cultural and urban geographer, and I completed my MA and PhD in Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. My research has been based in Istanbul, Turkey, where I explore the changing relationship between the urban landscape and the practice of Islam. Broadly, my research shows how changes in the landscape have both been made possible by and helped to reinforce changing definitions and understandings of Islam. In the process, I help contribute to an emerging body of scholarship that explores the diverse ways that where Islam is shapes who and what comes to be understood as Muslim. Although I am trained as a geographer, my work is interdisciplinary in scope, drawing in particular on approaches and research in Middle East area studies, art history, anthropology, history, and religious studies.

Can you speak to the importance of understanding geography and landscape, and its relationship to Islam and Turkey?

One of the central questions that guides my research is a seemingly simple one: How does where something is shape who or what it is? If we think, for example, that where someone is from shapes who they are, then we’re asking a question that is geographic in nature. This way of thinking about geography opens up two linked lines of inquiry that are important to how we understand Turkey and Islam today. First, it prompts us to ask how where has changed over time. Places are never static, and by following the changing debates over how places should be defined, regulated, and made meaningful in people’s lives, we develop a richer understanding of the history and politics of places and the people who inhabit them. Because Turkey has changed in such far-reaching ways over the course of the 20th century, this way of thinking about place helps us better understand the continuities and ruptures that define people’s lives. Second, this way of thinking geographically challenges us to think of where in terms beyond the national. Although national identity has been and continues to be an incredibly powerful form of geographic identification in Turkey, being ‘Turkish’ exists alongside other ways of narrating one’s identity, ways that involves overlapping geographies of the home, the neighborhood, the city, and the world.

How do you feel your background from geography has influenced the kind of work your produce in regards to Middle Eastern Studies?

As a discipline, geographers have a long history of thinking about the ‘region’ as a category of analysis. What defines a region? What constitutes a regional geography? How should one study regions? What are the limits of a region as a conceptual frame and analytical object? These questions are, of course, central to a long history of scholarship in Middle East area studies. Even though there has historically been relatively little overlap between Middle East area studies and geography (in contrast with disciplines like history, anthropology, and political science), I feel like many of the questions and approaches that characterize geographers’ approach are in fact implicit in much of Middle East area studies.

Can you talk more about the importance and value of interdisciplinary methods in Middle Eastern Studies?

One of the reasons that I am excited to be a part of conversations within Middle East area studies is the field’s traditional reflexivity about its object of study. After all, what is the Middle East? What defines the region as an object of study? How does identifying our scholarship as being about the Middle East make it distinct or exceptional? Although scholars answer these questions in a variety of ways, I think our research constantly reminds us to think through the ways that our methods shape the kinds of insights we are able to generate. In contrast to disciplines that are defined primarily by the methods they deploy, Middle East area studies’ orientation to the ‘area’ opens up the opportunity to use multiple kinds of methods. Although this methodological diversity sometimes presents its own challenges, I continue to learn from scholars who look upon the region from multiple methodological perspectives and thus bring their scholarship into conversation with a much broader interdisciplinary audience.