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Agnes Kefeli Clay

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Principal Lecturer
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 4302
Biography

Agnes Kefeli has taught languages, history, and religious studies at ASU since 1995.  In her award-winning book, Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia: Conversion, Apostasy, and Literacy (Cornell University Press 2014), which received the 2015 Reginald Zelnik Prize from the Association of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Agnes Kefeli examines four different areas: popular religion, education, gender, and the frontier.  She is especially interested in the intersection among conversion, popular contestation of official identities, production of religious knowledge, collective memory, and women’s activities in the religious sphere, in the past as well as in the present.  The Tatars—a Turkic people who comprise the largest ethnic minority in the Russian Federation—provide a particularly rich field for investigating these areas of cultural and religious history.  Under Russian rule since the sixteenth century, they have had a long history of resistance and co-existence with an alien culture.  Kefeli’s work and articles examine the long history of conflict and cohabitation between predominantly Muslim Tatars and Eastern Orthodox Russians. Her research shows that Muslim Tatar identity was not fixed or defined by national heritage, but was an evolving, often contested, dynamic phenomenon. Her work draws on fieldwork observations, Russian-language archival documents, and Turkic Sufi sources, which have played and still play an important role in the Islamization and re-Islamization of Central Asia. Several granting agencies, including the International Research and Exchanges Board, the American Association of University Women, the Spencer Foundation, and the Library of Congress, have recognized the excellence of her research. She has received the Berkshire Conference Article Prize for the best article published in any field of history in 2011, and the 2012 Heldt Prize from the Association for Women in Slavic Studies for   "The Tale of Joseph and Zulaykha on the Volga Frontier: The Struggle for Gender, Religious, and National Identity in Imperial and Postrevolutionary Russia,"  published in Slavic Review, vol. 70, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 373-398.

 

Education

Ph.D., History Department, Arizona State University, 2001.

D.E.A. (Diplôme d'Etudes Approfondies), Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, 1985. 

Maîtrise (A.M.) in Russian, University of Paris IV–Sorbonne, 1982.

Research Interests

Agnes Kefeli is currently exploring the development and significance of new eschatologies in Eurasia, provoked in part by ecological crises of the twentieth century. In the post-Soviet period, as Islam has recovered from a series of vicious Communist antireligious campaigns, post-Soviet intellectuals have sought to map out responses to the ethnic and ecological challenges of their day. In their works, they have outlined sharply divergent views concerning ecological sustainability, multiculturalism, democracy, the exploitation of nature, and the future of their community in the Russian Federation. Drawing on their historical and religious traditions, some have embraced a highly secularized vision of their society; others seek to recover the religion and folkways of their ancestors; still others ally themselves with resurgent global Islam. Each of these approaches to the future implies a particular eschatological denouement.

Publications
  • Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia: Conversion, Apostasy, and Literacy (Cornell University Press, 2014), 312 pages. (Winner of the 2015 Reginald Zelnik Book Prize of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.)
  • “A Baptized Sufi on the Volga River: Sufi Networks among Eastern Orthodox Tatars in the Nineteenth Century.”  Kriashenskoe Istoricheskoe Obozrenie (Kryashen Historical Review), Kazan, vol. 1, 2015: 64-82.
  • “Noah’s Ark Landed in the Ural Mountains: Ethnic and Ecological Apocalypse in Tatarstan.” Russian Review 73, no. 4 (October 2014): 596-612.
  • "The Tale of Joseph and Zulaykha on the Volga Frontier: The Struggle for Gender, Religious, and National Identity in Imperial and Post-Revolutionary Russia." Slavic Review 70, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 373-398. (This article won the Berkshire Conference Article Prize for the best article published in any field of history in 2011 and the 2012 Heldt Prize from the Association for Women in Slavic Studies.)
Fall 2017
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 100Religions of the World
HST 100Global History to 1500
Spring 2017
Course NumberCourse Title
HST 100Global History to 1500
REL 100Religions of the World
REL 365Islamic Civilization
Fall 2016
Course NumberCourse Title
HST 100Global History to 1500
REL 100Religions of the World
REL 366Islam in the Modern World
Spring 2016
Course NumberCourse Title
HST 100Global History to 1500
REL 100Religions of the World
REL 365Islamic Civilization
Fall 2015
Course NumberCourse Title
HST 100Global History to 1500
REL 100Religions of the World
REL 690Reading and Conference
Spring 2015
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 100Religions of the World
REL 603Teaching World Religions
Fall 2014
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 100Religions of the World
Spring 2014
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 100Religions of the World
REL 365Islamic Civilization
REL 690Reading and Conference
Fall 2013
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 100Religions of the World
REL 365Islamic Civilization
Spring 2013
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 100Religions of the World
REL 394Special Topics
Presentations

As a teacher, Agnes Kefeli seeks to create a transdisciplinary program that would bring a new perspective to the study of Turkish Islam by placing it in the context of its relationship with the whole Turkic world, including the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, Central Asia and the Turkic minorities of Russia.  In 1995, she helped create a summer Volga Tatar language program at Arizona State University, where she also taught first- and second-year Tatar.  In 2000, she arranged a study abroad program between ASU and Kazan State University in Tatarstan (Russian Federation), the most important institution of higher education in Tatarstan) that allows students to have first-hand knowledge of living in a multicultural environment. Presently, she is a Principal Lecturer on the Religious Studies and History Faculties, where she teaches courses on World Religions, Global History, the Abrahamic traditions, and Islam in its classical and contemporary contexts.  For her World Religions, Islamic Civilization, and Global History courses, she has designed three teaching workbooks, published respectively in 2012, 2014, and 2016 by Kendall Hunt.  She has also developed a new undergraduate course “Islam in Eurasia and Central Asia” that examines the changing role of Islam from various transdisciplinary perspectives, integrating historical, religious studies, sociological, anthropological, political, and literary methodologies.  This course pays particular attention to various processes of modernization and the role of Islam as a tool of political and nationalist mobilization.  She works closely with Honors students on various projects related to religion in the Phoenix area or Islam in Central Asia, and also with graduate students whom I train to teach “World Religions.” Finally, she proudly serves as the current coordinator of the Islamic Studies Undergraduate Certificate and teach third-year Tatar to graduate students specialized in Eurasian studies.