Assistant professor Nada Moumtaz received her PhD in Cultural Anthropology from City University of New York. Her research stands at the intersection of anthropology, history, and Islamic legal studies, and focuses on how Islamic tradition has transformed since the nineteenth century while continuing to challenge and provide alternatives to dominant sensibilities, conceptions, and institutions of the modern world. She is the author of the 2021 book, God’s Property: Islam, Charity, and the Modern State, which examines the contemporary Islamic revival of the charitable practice of pious endowment in Beirut to shed new light on the secularization of religion through the lens of its separation from “the economy.”
Since joining the University of Toronto in 2016, Moumtaz has worked in a close and ongoing way with at least 20 students, in addition to serving as a member of nine PhD committees (twice as internal examiner) and as examiner for six separate sets of comprehensive exams. Though it is extremely unusual for pre-tenure faculty in her field to take on sole supervision, Moumtaz has already supervised two Master’s students and one PhD student while also serving as co-supervisor for another doctoral student.
This School of Graduate Studies annual award, which was launched in 2021, recognizes pre-tenure faculty who, over a period of up to six years, have demonstrated excellence in graduate supervision.
Nada Moumtaz describes her approach to graduate supervision as “tailored” and “flexible.”
“The key, I think is, empathy and respect,” she explains, noting that many of her students have family responsibilities, and therefore, competing demands on their time. “Both for them as individuals who have full lives and know what they’re doing, but also as people who might be unfamiliar with the ins and outs of academia. I try to take into account where they’re coming from, and what they know and don’t know, and what kind of support they need.”
Moumtaz came to the University of Toronto in 2016 from Ohio State University, where she had been teaching after earning a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the City University of New York in 2012. Her research, which stands at the intersection of anthropology, history, and Islamic legal studies, spans the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries in the Levant and examines various aspects of the interaction between religion and capitalism. In particular, Moumtaz is interested in the renewal of the centuries-old Islamic practice of pious endowments (or waqf) in Lebanon, and its transformation through new understandings of religion and the economy.
But Moumtaz did not always consider herself an anthropologist. Arriving in New York with an undergraduate degree in architecture from the American University of Beirut, she found herself reeling while trying to navigate the literature of a new discipline.
“I was clueless,” she remembers. “I didn’t know how to read for graduate school. And some teachers didn’t give us a lot of context for the debates with which we were engaging. When they did, I didn’t have enough of a background for the information to stick. Others assumed we were doing a lot of reading outside class.”
Now, in her own supervision, Moumtaz tries to be mindful of gaps in her students’ knowledge, while still encouraging them to arrive at their own conclusions.
“What I try to do for the students is place some of the texts we are reading in context,” she explains. “I offer a lot of ‘meta-talk.’ For instance, I will tell them that we’re about to tackle a long book and share different approaches to reading it. There’s a particular skill that assignment wants you to develop. So I try to explain the kind of learning different courses expect from you.”
She also believes in being honest with her feedback, thinking of her students as scholars doing important research. “I’m not going to tell them something is good if it isn’t. And I try to think with them about their projects – send them resources that will help them expand their horizons and their community.”
In addition to that careful engagement with students’ work, the Early Career Supervision Award also recognizes Moumtaz’s ongoing support for students’ efforts to make the department a more inclusive and equitable space. Students in the DSR note that she has dedicated a significant amount of time and energy to supporting their racial equity working group and to representing their concerns using her voice as a faculty member. One student observes that “when non-normative graduate students are impacted by hegemonic academic structures, Nada ensures they have her wholehearted support, and notably, shows a continued confidence in their capacities.”
For Moumtaz, who admits to having struggled with thinking of herself as a mentor, being considered for the award has meant “so much.” She is especially touched by the lengths to which her students went to support her nomination.
“It’s so heartwarming to know they wrote these letters and that they appreciate what I do,” she shares. “Because to me, I’m just doing what I do with the community of scholars I am part of. I also feel like these are my responsibilities. I’m just doing my job.”
Article reproduced with the kind permission of the School of Graduate Studies.