Dissertation Defense: Pamela Klasova
Candidate Name: Pamela Klasova
Major: Arabic and Islamic Studies
Advisor: Suzanne Stetkevych, Ph.D.
Title: Empire through Language: Al-Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf al-Thaqafī and the Power of Oratory in Umayyad Iraq
This dissertation examines the speeches and the literary-historical figure of al-Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf al-Thaqafī (d. 714), the governor of Iraq under the Umayyad dynasty (661-750), to explore the role that cultural means played in the process of building the Islamic empire and to reflect on approaches to early Islamic history.
The first half of the dissertation (chapters 1-3) challenges the perceived image of al-Ḥajjāj as the notorious brutish tyrant of Islamic history and mere servant of the Umayyads. It explains the formation of this image and provides an alternative account, from which al-Ḥajjāj emerges as a semi-autonomous ruler of the Islamic East who made use of a vast array of cultural means to buttress his legitimacy and participated thereby in laying down the ideological principles of the Umayyad empire. In this context, public speaking played an especially important role as a tool to disseminate his ideology and to formulate the identity of the Arabo-Muslim elite.
The second half deals with al-Ḥajjāj’s speeches and, more generally, with Umayyad oratory which have remained an unexplored field, mainly due to doubts about its authenticity. Chapter 4 discusses the ideology that al-Ḥajjāj’s speeches project and draws attention to their performative quality. Chapter 5—through a detailed analysis of ten variants of one celebrated speech—develops a method in dealing with the authenticity question and highlights oral patterns of transmission based on memorization. The oral transmission of this speech runs against the general view that regards early Islamic oratory as literary inventions of Abbasid historians. Appendix II offers a further excursus into matters of transmission. Finally, Chapter 6 explores the practice and the developing perceptions of Umayyad oratory through different types of material in al-Bayān wa-l-tabyīn by al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 868). Appendix I contains translations of nineteen speeches of al-Ḥajjāj.
This study offers an example of a memory formation in the case of a key early Islamic figure and draws attention to the phenomenon of Umayyad public speech both as a crucial political tool in building the Empire in its own time and as a cultural product fundamental to Arab self-identification and identity in later period.
Monday, August 20, 2018 at 11:00am to 1:00pm
Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 241
37th and O St., N.W., Washington