Get To Know Our Senior Lecturer: PD Dr. Viola Thimm

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Are you wanting to know more about our teaching staff at SDAC? Well, look no further: PD Dr. Viola Thimm was kind enough to share with us her experiences teaching at SDAC, research interests and more. Read all about one of our incredible lecturers at SDAC, and what she has to say!


E.S: What about the SDAC program interested you and made you choose to teach here?

V.T: What I really like about SDAC is the international environment – my colleagues and our students come from all over the world. This is very inspiring. What I furthermore very much appreciate is the collegiality and the casual interaction. Furthermore, the study program stands out through the intense teaching that we can offer due to our privileged situation as an elite graduate program. Our classes are small which means that everyone is required to engage fully with the material and the course contents. No one can afford to sit back. This leads to very lively, well-founded and engaged discussions and debates in the class room. However, I’m very well aware that this privileged condition excludes many potential students based on their resources.

E.S: What is your educational background, and how do you connect it with SDAC’s themes of decision-making and cultural studies?

V.T: I’m a Social and Cultural Anthropologist and Gender Studies scholar. My research interests include cultural practices of im/mobility (especially those of transnational migration, pilgrimage and tourism); gender relations and intersectionality; kinship and family networks; Islam and its socio-cultural entanglements; local economies and consumer culture. My regional focus lies in Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Singapore) and the Arabian Peninsula (United Arab Emirates, Oman), where I have conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork for over the past sixteen years. I was awarded my Habilitation and Venia Legendi in Anthropology (German qualification for full professorship) in 2021 with my professoral thesis “Shopping with Allah: Muslim Pilgrimage, Gender, and Consumption in Malaysia and Dubai”. I received my doctoral degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology by the University of Göttingen in 2013 with a dissertation on Gender and Educational Migration in Singapore and Malaysia. I furthermore wrote a third book on theoretical-methodological questions of studying intersectionality in transnational contexts (“Narrating intersectional perspectives across social scales”, Routledge 2022). Decision-making directly or indirectly always plays a role when studying social life-worlds as people constantly make all forms of conscious or unconscious decisions: Which route to take to pilgrimage destinations; what to shop on a spiritual journey and for whom; as a parent, to whom do I give my children the indirect mandate to acquire education and status etc. Decision-making is one particular lens amongst many others to understand what people do and why.

E.S: What research are you currently working on?

V.T: My current research project entitled Mapping Sexual Im/Mobilities: Queer Muslim Pilgrimage deals with queer Muslim pilgrimage. Broadly understood as either impossible to be queer and Muslim or as a sin, queer Muslim pilgrimage is a global phenomenon of our times. However, it only gains sketchy attention in mainstream debates on Muslim identities. What is missing is a conceptual understanding of queer Muslim pilgrimage as a basic mode of sexualized mobilities and its consequences for space and place making in Muslim contexts. The objective of this project is to take on this task and work towards a comprehensive im/mobility of gender, sexuality and religion in globalization. It is the first study that identifies queer Muslim pilgrimage extensively.

E.S: What would you like to teach in the future at SDAC?

V.T: I plan to teach courses related to (critiques of) culture, on reading ethnographic classics, on decoloniality, on gender and embodiment, on queer Asia, on local economies in Southeast Asia… Actually, all this comes with the flow and is also dependent upon the requirements and wishes of the students.

A huge thank-you goes out to P.D. Dr. Viola Thimm for making the time for this interview. Our professors hugely impact our program and make it as special as it is.