Research Interests

Excavating Islamic/Sufi archaeology in Turkmenistan (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Excavating in Sudan (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Emily’s current research projects and publications touch upon the following fields: Iranian film; Iranian diaspora; Sufism; Late Egyptian literature; Cultural Heritage in Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East; Postcolonialism; Performance Studies; Modern South Arabian languages in Oman & Yemen; archaeology (Turkmenistan, Sudan, Egypt & Oman); post-Soviet Islamic legal literature; Mongolian shamanism; Arabic & Persian literature on the Mongols; disability studies; post-exoticism.

Teaching at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, Emily is particularly interested in helping her students understand and appreciate the complex linguistic, literary, and historical connections between the Persian Gulf, Europe, and Africa.

As the Whittlesey Chair of History and Archaeology at the American University of Beirut, Emily conducted archaeological field-work in Sudan and Turkmenistan. Previously, as the Chief Epigrapher of the Brown University-Cairo University Epigraphic Survey at the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, she directed epigraphic work for seven years at the most famous ancient site in the world. Next summer, she will be returning to Mongolia, where she surveyed archaeological sites this past June.

Not content to contain her teaching to the rigid confines of a university classroom, she has also taught students outside of “official” educational spaces in the U.S. and Middle East — such as Syrian refugees, young cancer patients in Beirut, at-risk Providence youth, and developmentally disabled adults in Rhode Island.

Doing epigraphy on recently returned objects to the Egyptian Museum (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Exploring Aljun Castle with the World Archaeological Congress in Jordan


• “Geographies of Disability in the Writings of Rimbaud: Mapping Colonialism and Disablement in Yemen and Ethiopia,” Connecting the Dots in a Glocalized World, Sultan Qaboos University, 2016.
• “Scenes from the Screen: Masterpieces of Iranian Film” (Invited Guest Speaker in Iran), Commonwealth Club of California, 2016.
• “Surveying Stanzas and Shrines: Sufism and Poetry in Iran” (Invited Guest Speaker in Iran), Commonwealth Club of California, 2016.
• “Dig It: Archaeology & Cultural Heritage in Iran” (Invited Guest Speaker in Iran), Commonwealth Club of California, 2016.
• “Journey to the Marketplace: Tourism and Business in Iran” (Invited Guest Speaker in Iran), Commonwealth Club of California, 2016.
• “Advancing Disability Rights in Bhutan & Oman,” The Royal Palace of Bhutan/Center for Bhutan Studies, November 2015.
• “Preserving Endangered Languages & Heritage in Oman,” Sultan Qaboos University, Sultanate of Oman, 2015 (guest lecture).
• “Writing Refugees,” Sultan Qaboos University, Sultanate of Oman, 2015.
• “Trespassing Boundaries in Sound, Space, & Spirit,” 2015 World Conference of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) in Kazakhstan, July 2015.
• “From Leprosy to the Willow Tree: Decoding Cinematic Disability & Spirituality,” Rethinking Disability on Screen Symposium, University of York, May 2015.
• “The Contendings of Horus & Seth,” American University of Beirut, April 2015.
• “Sufism & the State in Central Asia, Jamia Millia Islamia (India), February 2015.
• “X Marks the Spot: Mapping Malcolm’s Encounters with Sudan,” American University of Beirut, February 2015.
• “Memories of the Mongols at Merv: Surveying Archaeological & Textual Accounts,” National University of Mongolia, June 2014.
• “Subversives & Saints: Sufism and the State in Central Asia” (Anis Makdisi Lecture/Arts and Humanities Initiative), American University of Beirut, Spring 2014.
• “Mleeta: An Archaeology of Terror or Resistance?,” 19th Annual European Association of Archaeologists, Pilsen (Plzeň), Czech Republic, 2013.
• “Adjudicating Bodily Difference in Iranian Islamic Jurisprudence,” Sexual Sovereignty: Citizenship, Governmentality, Territory Conference, American University of Beirut, 2013.
• “Adjudicating Antiquity: The Taliban & Archaeology,” World Archaeology Congress (Jordan), January 2013.
• “Women and Medieval Islamic Shrine Visitation in Turkmenistan,” Harriman Institute, Columbia University, 2011.
• “Recent Fatwas from the Ulema Council of Afghanistan: the Role of Islamic Jurisprudence in Afghanistan in the Post-9/11 Era,” Harriman Institute, Columbia University, 2011.
• “Islam and Gender in the Czech and Slovak Republics,” Yale University, November 2010.
• “Journeys into the Heart of Islam: Sufi Travels and Tales,” Brown University, 2010.
• “Czech Mates: Collaborations between Iranian and Czech Communists During the Cold War,” the 15th Annual World Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN), Columbia University, May 2010.
• “Tombstones for Tables: Posthumous Living in the Islamic City of the Dead,” The Oriental City Conference, Institute of Oriental Philology at Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland, May 2009.
• Discussant, “Production and Transmission of Islamic Knowledge in Azerbaijan: Between Traditional Authorities and New Actors” (Dr. Rufat N. Sattarov), The Changing Social Role of Islam in Post-Soviet Eurasia (Conference), Harvard University, March 20-21st, 2009.
• “Iran and Tajikistan: Perfect Together?” 14th Annual World Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN), Columbia University, May 2009.
• “A Russian-Iranian Cinematic Encounter: The Birth of Iranian Film,” Empires and Revolutions: Iranian-Russian encounters since 1800 Conference, Iran Heritage Foundation and London Middle East Institute, SOAS (LMEI), School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Summer 2009.
• “Emotional Egyptians: Excavating, Cataloging and Defining Emotion,” Harvard University, March 2009.
• “Ancient Egyptian Emoticons: Excavating Fossils of Cognition in Art and Literature,” the Humanities Center of Harvard University, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 2008.
• “Ancient Egyptian Emoticons: Decoding Hieroglyphic Symbols for Emotion,” Sharif University, Tehran, Iran, May 2009.
• “Hieroglyphic Preservation and Archaeological Excavation: The Abu Bakr Cemetery at the Great Pyramids of Giza,” The Aga Khan Humanities Project, University of Central Asia, Tajikistan, July 2008.
• “Excavating Anger in Ancient Greek and Ancient Egyptian Art and Literature,” the International Congress of Egyptologists, Rhodes, Greece, May 2008.

Excavating at the Great Pyramids (Photo: Emily O'Dell)


The Contendings of Horus & Seth: Translation, Literary Analysis, & Commentary (book), Brill, 2017.
• “Subversives & Saints: Sufism and the State in Central Asia,” in Pauline Jones Luong, (ed.) Islam, Society and Politics in Central Asia, 2016.
“From Leprosy to The Willow Tree: Decoding Disability & Islamic Spirituality in Iranian Film,” Disability & Society, 2015.
• “X Marks the Spot: Mapping Malcolm’s Encounters with Sudan,” A Special Issue of the Journal of Africana Religions, January 2015.
• “Waging War on the Dead: Necropolitics and Sufi Shrine Destruction in Mali,” Archaeologies, December 2013.
• “Iranian-Russian Cinematic Encounters,” in Stephanie Cronin, (ed.) Iranian-Russian Encounters: Empires and Revolutions since 1800. London: Routledge, 2013.

Brown University team at Giza (Photo: Marianne Barcellona)