I don't know if the conferences are open to the public (I doubt it), but of course, if I'll be in your town, I'd be happy to meet up! I should also note that in between these conferences I will also be teaching at the Henna Gathering, March 28-30, in Hartford, CT!
I've copied the titles and abstracts below... I hope this gives you a little taste of what an academic analysis of henna looks like. If you're particularly interested in one of the papers, the conference proceedings might be published, and there may be another way to get it to you.
February 20-21: University of Indiana-Bloomington
“Not a Single Memory Left”:
Jewish henna and the malleability of memoryMany Jewish weddings, in Israel as well as North America, include a ceremony known as the “henna night” (leil haḥinna). These ceremonies today are largely practiced by Jews of non-European origin — the Jewish communities of North Africa, the Levant and Mediterranean basin, and Western, Central and Southern Asia — although they have spread to Ashkenazi communities as well. The discourse around (and during) henna ceremonies appeals to memory as a crucial factor in their continued importance. Participants are instructed to ‘remember the traditions’ and applauded for their work in ‘keeping the memories alive.’ At the same time, it is clear that the form of these ceremonies has undergone a process of evolution, modification and reinterpretation over time, especially in the past six decades since the ‘aliya of these communities. This paper explores what is being remembered, what is being forgotten, and what it means for young Jews to remember places they have never seen.
|Moroccan henna night, Israel, 2010|
In this paper I argue that these ceremonies demonstrate how memory is not so much a telling of ‘the past as it was,’ as it is a telling of ‘the past as it might have been’ — that is, the effect of memory constructs its truth through cultural serviceability rather than historical accuracy. This paper will probe the nature of Jewish cultural memory, and the relationship between memory and cultural change, through a close reading of data collected in research on contemporary henna ceremonies, including observations at henna ceremonies in Israel and North America, conversations with the participants and hosts, and interviews with henna organizers. A comparison between historical records of Jewish henna ceremonies in texts and pictures, and henna ceremonies as currently performed, shows that the contemporary ceremony differs significantly from its predecessors in both material and theoretical aspects. The narratives of participants and organizers alike acknowledge their own role in reshaping and recreating new traditions while at the same time insisting on their role in preserving and passing on the importance of ethnic and cultural memory.