I am an Associate Professor at the University of Washington’s Law, Societies, and Justice Program with adjunct appointments in the School of Law and Departments of Anthropology, Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, Women’s Studies, and Comparative Religion.
I received my Ph.D. in 2002 in Cultural Anthropology at Stanford University. Prior to that, I was a practicing attorney. I received by J.D. in 1993 at The American University, Washington College of Law
As a former immigration and asylum/refugee attorney, I became concerned with the fraught but often neglected relationship between ‘culture’ and ‘rights.’ I turned to the discipline of Cultural and Social Anthropology in order to better promote and advocate for the humanity and dignity of people in other societies – societies which are simultaneously entrenched in domestic and international politics, laws, historical relations, and are always changing through time. In short, I wanted to study anthropology to be a better human rights activist by focusing on the question of how we understand others’ so-called ‘cultural’ practices.
The question of how we understand is two-fold: what methods or tools for understanding do we employ for better insight and awareness; and how do we account for our own ways of thinking which inexorably shape the how of seeing cultural practices? As Wittgenstein said, “We see the world the way we do not because that is the way it is, but because we have these ways of seeing.” This is emphatically not what some might label as ‘cultural relativism,’ rather, it is finding methods of understanding that are both useful and persuasive. Addressing the how of understanding will help us advocates provide the grounds for achieving better results through explorations of both our own perceptions and those of others as complex entities – epistemologies or ways of knowing – to be unraveled and sorted out prior to making a moral judgment, but not preventing moral judgment. Indeed, in this way, I am very interesting in finding ways to employ human rights principles as principles of accountability in the global-world-system in which we live, but that accountability must take into account global power relations and not simply look at the people in other societies and judge them in a vacuum.
At the University of Washington, I conduct research and teach courses focusing on the intersection of law and culture, including human rights, refugee rights and identity, and women’s rights in Muslim societies. My main geographical focus is the Middle East, especially Iran.
I have published in various journals, including American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology and Iranian Studies. My book, The Politics of Women’s Rights in Iran (2009), is published by Princeton University Press.
I am currently working on a new project that considers the Islamic mandate of forgiveness, compassion, and mercy in Iran’s criminal sanctioning system, jurisprudential scholarship, and everyday acts among pious Muslims.
My new research project considers the Muslim mandate of forgiveness or forbearance as a central ordering component of an Islamic way of life. As an anthropologist, I am not simply interested in the texts of the sources, Qur’an and Hadiths, but also in how pious Muslims practice forgiveness, forbearance, mercy, and compassion in everyday life. That is, how does this compulsion to Muslims manifest through social interaction, law, and states politics? One specific area I am considering is criminal sanctioning, which permits individual forgiveness in many contexts; this is not to be confused with the state pardon. One of the aims of this study will be to appraise the relationship between the legal and social manifestation of forgiveness to a certain understanding of human rights. Finally, I am interested in how the Muslim compulsion to forgive and forbear may potentially play a role in reconciliation and transitional justice. I have not lost my interest in women’s status and rights nor gender. This project will also consider how gender (symbolically and literally) figures into forgiveness.