Research

To meet my life goal of making positive contributions to public discourse, I want to use my doctoral studies to continue my research into the rhetoric of marginalized groups—women, immigrants, and adherents of minority religions. As an MA student, I conducted six studies in these areas, on subjects ranging from Alfarabi to VisaJourney.com. My overall research question is, “How do migrants, women, and non-Christians influence majoritarian public culture?”

If you’d like to read the narrative of my academic development, please visit the page on my scholarly trajectory and read about my graduate coursework. Below, peruse the abstracts of a few of the six projects begun during my MA years.

 

Inspiration Online: Rhetorical Moves of US Muslim Women

To be presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s 2018 Convention.

Applying mobility theory to the rhetoric of Western Muslims permits insight into both their entrapment in existing circulations of meaning and their agentic efforts to move beyond a peripheral position. The social media campaign “Hijabis of New York” demonstrates such efforts. On its online page, the campaign posts profiles of veiled women; many argue for transforming the constraints imposed by fellow Americans who disdain them and by fellow Muslims who expect traditionalism. To unsettle a general US audience’s prejudice, participants make two key rhetorical moves. First, they approach this audience by mobilizing commonplaces of American national identity: independence and innovation. Second, they encourage the audience to move toward them by highlighting their own transcendence of prejudice, suggesting the onlooker will benefit from ascending likewise to a moral high ground of tolerance and kindness—principles they regard as primary in Islam. These moves reveal that, contrary to a “clash of civilizations” worldview, values from Islam and from American democracy merge within the rhetors’ dense ecologies of multiple audiences and distinctive standpoints. Their rhetoric of inspiration relies on moving expressions of aspiration: hopes for the upward, onward mobility of rhetors and their audiences—the lifting aloft of the entire rhetorical ecology. Whether they can elevate the miring context of prejudice is an open question, but inspiration is a gradual movement, “one hijabi at a time.”

 

Ex Oriente Lux: Tahirih’s Circulation by Western Bahá’í Women as Global Feminist Symbol

To be presented at the Feminisms and Rhetorics 2017 Conference.

Women worldwide should be thrilled “to know, ex oriente lux, that the first woman suffrage martyr was not a Westerner at all, but a young woman poet, Táhirih,” proclaims Martha Root in her 1938 biography of the woman also known as Qurratu’l-‘Ayn. The Persian theocracy executed Táhirih for heresy in 1852. She was a disciple of the Báb, a prophet who advocated humanity’s spiritual and social transformation. Many Bábís became Bahá’ís, which is why Táhirih entered Bahá’í lore. When the Bahá’í Faith began to attract Europeans and Americans around the fin de siècle, the story of Táhirih’s 1848 public unveiling resonated with female converts, who appreciated the religion’s emphasis on the equality of women and men. Táhirih’s “criminal” heterodoxy in religion and gender evoked admiration in Western Bahá’í women, who identified with her activism. Converts celebrated this spiritual foremother in speeches, plays, and biographies.

As examples of the global circulation of feminist symbols, two encomia to Táhirih will be discussed: Laura Clifford Barney’s play, “God’s Heroes” (1910), and Root’s biography, “Táhirih, The Pure, Irán’s Greatest Woman.” Did Barney and Root appropriate an Iranian figure, enacting the “consumptive feminist cosmopolitanism” critiqued by Wendy Hesford? Undoubtedly, orientalist discourse influenced their outlook. Yet, their rhetoric effectively engraved Táhirih in the public memory of the international Bahá’í community. Social circulation, a phenomenon characterized as a feminist rhetorical practice by Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa Kirsch, enabled Táhirih’s mythologization. What can the circulation of the Táhirih myth teach us about transnational advocacy for women’s rights?

 

Global Conversations in Online Communities of Prospective Immigrants to the US

Presented at the Computers and Writing 2016 Conference.

For documented immigrants to start their American life, they must undergo a lengthy bureaucratic process. While some turn to attorneys for guidance, others seek grassroots advice online. My study focuses on VisaJourney, a website with nearly 174,000 registered members that creates a space for people from anyplace with Internet connection to coalesce around the shared interest of immigrating to the US. The purely online nature of the community serves as a rhetorical constraint, with its de facto requirement of written English for communication. Its format also serves as a rhetorical resource; applying Teena Carnegie’s interactivity theory, I find that the site’s interface enables users to build presence and participate in multidirectional interactions. Based on coding fifteen threads (totaling 28,000 words) from selected VisaJourney forums, I find that participants employ aspects of their identities to attract attention to their exigence. My analysis further reveals how participants in the “audience” become rhetors, shaping the rhetorical context—the community—by inculcating implicit requisites for successful interactivity, thus acting as literacy sponsors and brokers. This study nuances the scholarly understanding of how people between emigrant and immigrant identities employ rhetoric to seek and deliver advice on the process of reaching their imagined future home.