Meet our new director Valentina Izmirlieva

Meet our new director Valentina Izmirlieva

Valentina Izmirlieva assumed her new role as Director of the Harriman Institute on January 1, 2022. A long-time member of the Harriman community, she has been a faculty member of the Slavic Department since 1999. Her teaching ranges from literature and culture Russians to medieval literature. from Eastern Slavs and the history of religion in Russia from Prince Vladimir to Vladimir Putin, to critical theory, gender studies, Slavic modernism and Balkan cultural politics.

As an academic, she has always aspired to broaden the scope of her field beyond the Cold War logic that so often defines it. “All these places that are so culturally different – Central Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia – are lumped together with the Soviet Union and Russia, which only provides one context for understand their distinct histories,” she says, noting that she’s dedicated her entire career to researching other relevant contexts.

Currently, Professor Izmirlieva is finishing a book on the Balkan Christian hajjis of the Ottoman Empire and their role in the formation of Slavic national elites. This unique – and virtually unstudied – group of Eastern Orthodox pilgrims to Jerusalem modeled their trip on the Muslim Hajj to Mecca. In doing so, they transformed the old Christian tradition of devotional journeys into a new tool for social mobility.

His first book, All the Names of the Lord: Lists, Mysticism and Magic (University of Chicago, 2008) explores inter-religious exchanges in the Slavic world from a different angle. It examines traces of the Jewish mystical tradition in Christian texts across medieval and early modern Europe. It has been hailed as “an exemplary achievement” (Slavic and Eastern European Journal), “a scholarly tour de force” (Canadian Slavic Documents), and both “an intellectual adventure” [and] “a literary treat” (FE Peters, New York University).

Professor Izmirlieva’s ongoing project, Black Sea networks, is a groundbreaking global initiative rooted in the Black Sea as a center of cultural, political and historical interest. The new framework it proposes aims to reorient Slavic studies from a shared Slavic identity imagined as homogeneous towards shared spaces, where Slavs and non-Slavs are bound by enduring ties of conflict and competition, of cooperation and creative compromise. “Shared lands are highly contested, which makes land-based studies ideologically heavy,” she says. “Focusing on the sea decenters the Slavic field in a way that reveals new heuristic advantages.” In 2016, the initiative won a two-year grant from the President’s Global Innovation Fund at Columbia.

Former Harriman director Alexander Cooley, who sits on the advisory board of Black Sea Networks, praises Professor Izmirlieva for her ability to bring together diverse communities of academics and institutional partners. “It’s one thing to embrace diversity and interdisciplinarity in theory, but much harder to effectively promote, as Valentina did, new opportunities for local interactions, communications and mutual learning,” he said.

Congratulations to Professor Valentina Izmirlieva for her new role!

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