Middle East Studies

Asli Zengin – Caring for the Dead: Intimacy, Abandonment and Transgender Funerals in Turkey


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room, Watson Institute
111 Thayer St.

Registration on Eventbrite required

Focusing on Sunni Muslim transgender people’s funerals and burial practices in Turkey, this talk discusses the relationship between mourning, intimacy and gender/sex transgression through the lenses of care for the dead. In funeral rituals, the state, religious actors, and members of kin and family hold the obligations and rights to the deceased, such as washing, shrouding, burying and praying for the dead body, which Asli Zengin characterizes as “care for the dead.” The practices of care represent the deceased body in strictly gendered ways. For instance, the coffin design, the prayers at the mosque, the washing ritual prior to burial and the rites of inhumation are different for women and men. However, when the deceased is a transgender person, their/her/his body may open an intimate social field for negotiating and contesting these practices of care. Zengin examines this social field of contestation in order to discuss the limits of gendered and sexual belonging in citizenship, the family and the practices and discourses of mourning and grief in Turkey.

Middle East Colloquium

Asli Zengin is the Louise Lamphere Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies in the Department of Anthropology and the Pembroke Center at Brown University. Before joining Brown, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School and the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Brandeis University.

Her first book, Iktidarın Mahremiyeti: Istanbul’da Hayat Kadınları, Seks İşçiliği ve Şiddet (Intimacy of Power: Women Prostitutes, Sex Work and Violence in Istanbul), was published in Turkish. In this book, she examines the regulation of licensed and unlicensed sex work at the intersection of state power, law, medicine and violence. Currently, Zengin is completing her second book manuscript, "Trouble with Ambiguity: The State, Islam, Family, and Transgender Embodiment in Contemporary Turkey."

Zengin has been widely published in edited volumes and peer-review journals, including AnthropologicaJournal of Middle East Women’s Studies, and Transgender Studies Quarterly. Her research lies at the intersection of ethnography of gender non-conforming lives and deaths; Islamic and medico-legal regimes of sex, gender and sexuality; critical studies of violence and sovereignty; as well as transnational aspects of LGBTQ movements in the Middle East with a special focus on Turkey.