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M Elaine Combs-Schilling

mec3's picture
Title Associate Professor
Department Anthropology
Email mec3@columbia.edu
Phone +1 212 854 4564
Address 966 Schermerhorn Extension
Mail Code: 5528
United States

Professor Combs-Schilling's research in the transformative power of ritual led to her current interest in the unique performative ability of opera to create and sometimes transform patterns of cultural understanding. She focuses on opera compositions and performances that lie outside the norms and challenge common assumptions by bringing to life what Bakhtin calls “unofficial versions of reality,” giving them compelling sound, sight and material form. She focuses on late eighteenth century operas composed in Vienna in the years immediately preceding the French revolution, a time and place where people believed that individuals and communities could change and should change and the theatrical stage of opera was a critical site for transformation. Her current book project, Mozart’s Transformative Stage (forthcoming), addresses the challenge that "Le nozze di Figaro" posed in 1786 to Vienna’s dominant political, economic and operatic culture in bringing to the forefront of the stage egalitarian visions of gender, person, desire, community and authority that later came to be associated with the French revolution.

Professor Combs-Schilling's previous research in Morocco examined popular ritual performances in the world’s oldest still-ruling monarchy that helped cultivate particular understandings of masculinity and authority, intertwining them with understandings of communal good and connection to the divine. She also examined the lasting potency of storytelling from the margins as the twentieth century began in legends of a Muslim female saint, showing how a broad reaching egalitarian community sustained itself by her stories and the specific ways in which her recollection was attacked first by twentieth century French colonialists and then by Moroccan nationalists.

Selected Publications:

Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality and Sacrifice. Columbia University Press: New York, New York. 1989.

Staging Nation. In The Shadow of the Sultan: Culture, Power and Politics in Morocco. Rahma Bourquia and Susan Miller, eds. pp. 176-214. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1999.

Casablanca 1993: Negotiating Gender and Nation in Performative Space. Journal of Ritual Studies 10:2: 1-35 (Fall 1996).

Etching Patriarchal Rule. In Readings in Ritual Studies. Ronald L Grimes, ed. pp. 104-117. N.J.: Prentice Hall. 1996.