No Reclaimed Homeland: Thi Bui’s Postcolonial Historiography in The Best We Could Do

Front cover of Inks volume 4, issue 1

Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, vol. 4, no. 1, Spring 2020, pp. 44–65.

Abstract: Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, a graphic memoir centering on her family’s experience with war in Vietnam and with resettlement in the United States, earned critical acclaim upon publication in 2017. It touched a nerve with U.S. readers attuned to their country’s rising xenophobia, eliciting praise for humanizing refugees. Her comic certainly stirs compassion with its fusion of emotive drawings and text—but it does more. Bui subtly encourages readers to not only see refugees as human but to realize that no polity exists apart from migrancy. Situating her book in recent postcolonial theory, I read it as a commentary on the shifting nature of history and nation. Bui presents no singular homeland, past or present, implicitly calling into question Americans’ desire for a walled nation and bounded culture.

Full Text: You can download the article by clicking the link below.

Spiritual Cosmopolitanism, Transnational Migration, and the Bahá’í Faith

Cover art of Journal of Baha'i Studies volume 30 depicting an abstract landscape with Persian handwriting.

Journal of Bahá’í Studies, vol. 30, no. 1–2, 2020, pp. 19–44.

Abstract: Scholars have wrestled with the question of how people can be persuaded to extend feelings of kinship beyond their own ethnic or national groups. This article identifies spiritual cosmopolitanism, whose principles of universal love and harmony can be found in the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, as key to such borderless solidarity. Drawing on data gathered from interviews with Iranian refugees who have settled in the United States, the article demonstrates how cosmopolitan principles shape the worldviews of Bahá’ís. Through this case study, spiritual cosmopolitanism’s potential to enrich public arguments for the inclusion of Others such as immigrants becomes apparent.

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Dissertation: Reframing Immigration through Religious Advocacy

Reframing Immigration through Religious Advocacy: Rhetoric, Cosmopolitanism, and the Divine. 2020. Penn State U, PhD dissertation.

Multimedia Abstract:

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Textual Abstract:

In the United States, nativist rhetoric is propelling increasingly violent attacks on immigrants[1] and other minority populations. Conversely, discourse taking a more cosmopolitan approach—positing border-transcending obligations to all humanity, unlimited by national or ethnic group—struggles to elicit a comparably passionate following, as I explain in the introduction (chapter one). Perhaps cosmopolitan rhetoric can gain persuasive power by joining forces with religion. In the realm of faith-based immigration advocacy, cosmopolitan arguments leverage appeals to divine, rather than merely manmade, imperatives toward love and fellowship. For many potential audiences in this country, the divine plays a potent role in their lives, as over 75% of Americans belong to a religion—a statistic that suggests the influence of religious rhetoric. What resources can religious rhetoric provide to pro-immigrant arguments? By responding to this question, my project addresses a gap in studies of immigration rhetoric, which have hitherto overlooked the border-crossing potential of religious advocacy. The project also addresses a gap in studies of religious rhetoric, which have predominantly focused on Protestant Christianity, by drawing attention to the contributions of rhetors adhering to other religions. 

Every world religion offers some cosmopolitan principles, and many also feature sacred stories of migration, as chapter two demonstrates. To elucidate how these elements invigorate arguments for hospitality toward immigrants, I analyze the rhetoric of Bahá’í, Catholic, and Islamic advocacy organizations through the lens of religious cosmopolitanism (a theory that chapter two elucidates). In each organization’s advocacy, I find a model for reframing immigration rhetoric. In chapter three, I demonstrate how the Tahirih Justice Center uses the Bahá’í principle of nonpartisanship to enlist support across the aisles for its work on behalf of immigrant women. In chapter four, I survey the Kino Border Initiative’s rhetoric of journeying, which draws from Catholic traditions to spiritualize undocumented migration. Chapter five presents Hijabis of New York, a social media campaign that claims public space for a much-maligned immigrant group, U.S. Muslim women. 

All three of these organizations mobilize religious tenets that mandate universal justice and compassion. Through their arguments for border-transcending policies and dispositions, these organizations reframe the commonplaces of immigration, replacing the xenophobia that dominates discourse today with recognition of migrants’ humanity and spirituality. This dissertation’s discovery of innovative strategies in cosmopolitan rhetoric has several implications for research and teaching, as I point out in the conclusion (chapter six). In the arena of rhetorical research, my project shows that religion can contribute to arguments that we should welcome them—or, more radically, that there is no them, just a global us. It also implies the need for much more research in cosmopolitan theory even—and especially—in the face of rising xenophobia. The project also offers some practical takeaways for pedagogy, recommending anti-nativist teaching strategies. Overall, by bringing to light advocacy rhetorics that refuse to operate on nativism’s terms, it offers the reader hope for humane responses to those who have come across borders.

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A Persian Preacher’s Westward Migration: Táhirih’s Transnational Rhetoric, 1817–2015

Illustration of Táhirih’s travels with five key stops starred by Layli Maria Miron.
Map: Clipping of “Middle East in the 19th Century,” University of Chicago

Journal of Communication and Religion, vol. 42, no. 4, 2019, pp. 5–27.

Abstract: During her brief life in the early nineteenth century, the Persian poet and theologian Táhirih advocated for a spiritual revolution. Authorities executed her for heresy in 1852. After death, Táhirih attracted admirers around the world; Western writers—especially women—have interpreted her history to argue for gender equality, religious renewal, and global interdependence. This Middle Eastern preacher has established a posthumous pulpit in the United States, as members of the Bahá’í Faith there have authored a dozen books about her. After introducing Táhirih’s rhetorical rebellions, this essay demonstrates her transnational influence by analyzing her afterlives in U.S. Bahá’í discourse.

Full Text: You can download the article by clicking the link below.

Making Visible the Nativism-Ableism Matrix: The Rhetoric of Immigrants’ Comics

Rhetoric Review Journal

Rhetoric Review, vol. 38, no. 4, 2019, pp. 445-462

Abstract: Nativist ideology, which dominates public discourse, implements ableist hierarchies to reduce immigrants to diseases of the body politic. Immigrants’ graphic narratives, on the other hand, reveal the disabling effects of xenophobic environments. Rhetoricians have begun to recognize comics’ persuasive potential but thus far have not explored their role in immigration rhetoric. Using this medium’s affordances, immigrants critique the nativism-ableism matrix, as exemplified by Parsua Bashi’s comics memoir about immigrating to Switzerland from Iran, Nylon Road (2006/2009). Bashi’s self-worth, displaced by her unreceptive context, depends on accepting a mental (dis)ability. Her comic counters nativism’s eugenic underpinnings by visualizing variation.

You can download the article using this link. Thanks for reading!

Image courtesy of Rhetoric Review.

Martha Root’s Speeches and Social Discourse: Cosmic Education for a Universal Age

Martha Root with other women
Martha Root sitting front and center, with a group of women in Melbourne, Australia, c. 1924. (Image source)

A century ago, on July 22, 1919, Martha Root embarked on a 20-year journey to destinations in Europe, Australia, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. These travels were motivated by a desire to share Baha’u’llah’s teachings with diverse audiences through public speaking and writing. Before setting out, she had honed her rhetorical skills during her career as a journalist, performer, and teacher. You can learn more about Root’s purpose-driven life from this earlier Baha’i Blog article.

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An Introduction to ‘The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil’s Narrative’

Photo of Nabil's Narrative
(Image source)

Many Baha’is have a copy of The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Baha’i Revelation on their bookshelf. What is this book, and what is its purpose? Why is it important to Baha’is? Who was Nabil? When did he write his narrative, and when was it translated into English? This article provides basic answers to these questions, drawing primarily from Shoghi Effendi’s introduction to the English translation. 

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A Tribute to William Sears, Hand of the Cause

When setting out to write this article, I felt overwhelmed: William Sears accomplished so much in his 80 years. How to distill decades of service, achievements, and adventures into a short article? Here I’ve only captured the outlines of a man who seized every opportunity to serve—who once said, “I need only to remember one thing: nothing must come between me and my responsibilities to God and to my fellow man. Glory is not his who loves his country, his family, or himself alone. Glory is his who loves his kind. This, I believe, has helped me to look upon each dawn as a new adventure.”1

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Uniting the World, Two Hearts at a Time

(Image source)

“Each sees in the other the Beauty of God reflected in the soul, and finding this point of similarity, they are attracted to one another in love. This love will make all men the waves of one sea, this love will make them all the stars of one heaven and the fruits of one tree. This love will bring the realization of true accord, the foundation of real unity.” 

Abdu’l-Baha1

In 1904, Florence Breed and Ali-Kuli Khan married in Boston. Breed was American and Khan was Iranian; their union symbolized East and West uniting in the Baha’i Faith. When Abdu’l-Baha visited the US in 1912, the Khans hosted a luncheon for Him in Washington, D.C. There, Abdu’l-Baha defied social convention by giving Louis Gregory, an African-American Baha’i, the seat of honor. 

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When the West Comes to the East: Laura Barney’s Lessons from Persia

Painting of Laura Clifford Barney
“Laura at Sixteen” by Alice Pike Barney (Image source)

May 16, 1909: a gathering of New Yorkers listens to Laura Clifford Barney; one audience member jots down her words. This scribe records two talks Barney gives: the first, on her journey to Persia, and the second, on her observations of Abdu’l-Baha. To learn more about the context, please refer to my previous post, which describes the second talk.

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