AAUW International Fellowship

PhD Candidate Amira Hassnaoui awarded fellowship to study trance healing music

AAUW International Fellowship

Congratulations to Culture and Performance PhD candidate Amira Hassnaoui on her 2022-23 AAUW International Fellowship! This highly competitive fellowship supports women who are not U.S. citizens, pursuing full-time graduate study in the United States who intend to return to their home country to pursue a professional career. Those supported by AAUW scholarships and fellowships include Supreme Court Justices, Government Leaders, First Ladies, Humanitarians, Social Scientists, Academic Leaders and Biomedical Pioneers as well as Leaders in Mathematics and Engineering.

Born and raised in Tunis, Tunisia, Amira Hassnaoui is a PhD candidate in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA. Her work aims to demystify trance healing music rituals practiced by Black Tunisians. She incorporates film and photography in her research, and she aspires to create a hybrid project that features a museum exhibition of the material culture of these idioms. She received a M.A. in Popular Culture from Bowling Green State University in 2017, where she was President of the Graduate Student Senate and the Graduate Women’s Caucus.

From Amira:

"The primary subject of my dissertation research is the trance-induced healing music rituals called Stambeli and Banga as practiced among Tunisian Muslims of sub-Saharan heritage. Music is a conduit to crucial premises about race, gender, the identities of ethnic minorities, labor, the status of artists, and orally-inherited musical traditions. I seek to address nascent questions and propose hypotheses about neglected histories of Black Tunisians through their performance practices. Stambeli is not derived from a specific sub-Saharan musical tradition, but rather merges diverse rituals carried to North Africa by enslaved people via caravans. As an adaptive practice, Stambeli became unique to Tunisia. It also evokes the complexities of North African social identity, given that most Tunisian musical traditions are Arab-Andalusian or Turkish-influenced.

Working with followers of the local Sufi saint Sidi Marzoug Chouchane, and especially women devotees, I observe and participate in the little-studied performance idiom of Banga important to healing, problem-solving, and social identity. My research evokes the theme of gender as a fundamental component to understand women’s roles in assuring the cohesion and continuation of trance healing practices. While women do not take part in Banga dances nor do they play musical instruments, they provide different yet essential labor crucial for the success of ritual performances in ways I hope to investigate as agentive in its own right. My ethnographies include oral histories, visual artifacts, culture documents, and personal stories. I also ground my work in the valorization of community knowledge through film documentation and photography, and I hope to create museum exhibitions in Tunisia and the United States based upon my research. The goal of this dissertation is to document and increase the visibility of marginalized art forms practiced by Sub-Saharan Tunisians through anthropological discourse."