University of Texas at Austin

Thursday, December 4, 2008

In Memoriam: Elizabeth Warnock Fernea

Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, professor emerita of Middle Eastern Studies and comparative literature, passed away earlier this week. She was 81. Read an obituary here.

Known as “B.J.” to her friends and family, Fernea was a noted scholar, filmmaker and author of several books on women’s issues in the Middle East.

Her memoir “Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village” (1965) which detailed her immersion into the lives of the women of Al-Nahra, was a national bestseller.

Did you know Professor Fernea? Leave a comment and share your best memories of the beloved author and scholar.

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112 Comments to "In Memoriam: Elizabeth Warnock Fernea"

1.  R R Hinojosa-Smith says

We met when I first came here in l981. I knew of her before that from Professor Américo Paredes who spoke
most highly of her as a schoalr and as a person. I was
serving on the Executive Committee when B.J.s appli- cation for a part-time professor in English; the vote was

December 4, 2008


2.  Melanie Clouser says

It was my honor to meet Elizabeth Warnock Fernea in Oregon in summer 2007. She was a delightful conversationalist, and a considerate person. I am sorry that I was not able to continue our acquaintance longer. I think of her as a pioneer in my field. My condolences to her family. I add my name here to be counted among her many friends and admirers.

December 4, 2008


3.  Donna Endres says

B.J. Fernea was an inspiration and role model for many — even to those of us who are independent researchers into aspects of Middle Eastern culture and art. She encouraged and inspired, directly and by example. We were lucky to have her in Austin and will miss her very much.

December 4, 2008


4.  Brian A Bremen says

B.J. was always an inspiration to me. Smart, insistent, politically engaged, and yet always warm and human, she will be missed.

December 4, 2008


5.  Hillary Hutchinson says

I truly cannot remember the “best” memory. She was an amazing woman, ahead of her time in so many ways, and incredibly generous of her time for mentoring students. And she threw a wonderful New Year’s Day party for many, many years, until she was truly to ill to do so. She will be sorely missed by family, friends and colleagues.

December 4, 2008


6.  Patricia Miller-Shaivitz, Ph.D. says

I never had the honor of meeting Dr. Fernea in person, but I appreciated her contribution to anthropology. I have introducted my students to her excellent ethnographic work.

December 4, 2008


7.  Renate Wise says

If BJ were looking over my shoulder, she would tell me to keep this simple. So I will. BJ, you were a truly remarkable woman. I will miss you.
December 4, 2008

December 4, 2008


8.  Eileen Lundy says

BJ has been my friend and mentor for the last several years. I wish this relationship had begun long ago. We shared our interest in and our love for the cultures and people of the Middle East, where she and Bob in their professional work and my husband Ed and I in ours lived and worked for a number of years.

In her last illness, she was reading chapters from a manuscript Ed and I are editing and was preparing to write a foreword for the edition. We appreciate her urging and support for this project.

But what I will treaure most are our discussions of my days as a veiled Roman Catholic nun, many years and another lifetime ago. She urged me to write on that time as it kept being recalled to me in various ways as I worked among my hijab-wearing friends, colleagues and students in various countries in the Middle East.

BJ lives in my heart, in my work, and in my fresh and forever memories.

Eileen Lundy

December 4, 2008


9.  Ed Lundy says

BJ, she sheemed to me, always maintained a suprising simplicity. We first met at the University Catholic Center in the late 60’s, was it? Sim;picity, with her bangs, low heeled shoes, skirst and sweater with the kinds towed behind her. Who would have suspected the energy and depth? Our last lingereing meeting happened in Amman where we spent the day up, around and home from Jerash. I probably expected some insights into culture, architecture and imaginaitive worlds but, in truth, BJ invested our time in the local kiosks bargaining for trinkets to bring home: ear rings, necklaces, plates…. And, he had chosen the local bus rather than a taxi for the one hour trip. I think that was “BJ’s insight” for the day: do the simple things – bus, kiosks, bargaining for trinkets … to understand deeper realities. And she stil wore her low-heeled shoes and bangs.

December 4, 2008


10.  David Lynch says

deepest condolences to bob, the family and friends.

bj was – and is – many things to many people, but if there is one word that best describes bj and her work, it’s QUALITY.

much peace and love, d.

December 4, 2008


11.  Kamran Hooshmand says

I was shocked to hear the news this morning. We’ll miss her a lot. My very first film music recording was on her film, “Israelis and Palestinians: The Road to Peace”. Since then, I had always had great encounters with her as a mentor. Both Robert and Elizabeth were very influential in my early introduction to anthropology and ethnographic film and very supportive of my musical endeavors. In fact, they first introduce me to one of the earliest UT-Austin music students, oud master of Middle Eastern music, Hamza Al-Din, whom they hosted everytime he came into town to visit, and I am always grateful for that. She has given us a lot and will be remembered for years to come. May she rest in peace.

December 4, 2008


12.  Bill Woods says

BJ was a faculty member in the Ctr for Middle Eastern Stds when I was first employed at UT in May, 1978. She was the most gracious, warm and engaging person to all members of the Staff and made me feel welcome as a valued member of the MES Staff. She even autographed one of her books for me! A lovely person. My thoughts are with her family and close friends.

December 4, 2008


13.  Sharon L Doerre says

I was lucky enough to work as BJ’s research assistant for several years (94-96, 98-200) while I was a grad student at UT. She was an amazing woman: wise, witty, generous. Typically, she would teach classes while also overseeing the editing of a film and producing a book. We often worked from her home because while she was doing all of this, and juggling a vast correspondence and frequent telephone calls, she was also roasting a turkey to feed the dozens of guests due at her home that evening for a reception!

She and Bob were generous with their ideas, their time, and their home. The world is a poorer place without her.

December 4, 2008


14.  Sara McGonagle says

I met Professor Fernea as a student in one of her comparative literature courses at UT. I will always credit her with teaching me how to write. I felt she put great effort into her comments on papers I wrote. If you were dissatisfied with the grade you received on a paper, she would let you re-work the paper and then re-grade it as many times as you wanted. She was bright, articulate, generous and embodied a calm grace.

December 4, 2008


15.  Christopher Rose says

BJ Fernea gave me my first “rock star moment” as an academic. I remember her approaching me at the CMES fall reception in 2000, shortly after I had completed the MA program and had started working for the Center full time. A mutual friend had introduced us formally (I knew who she was, of course–you couldn’t be at the Center and not know BJ Fernea!), and she immediately started a discussion with, “I want to talk to you about this project I’m working on … ” She didn’t seem to notice or care that I was 25, had been in my new job for less than four months and had only the most rudimentary idea of what I was supposed to be doing.

At some point during the conversation, I had my rock star moment. In the back of my mind, a little voice piped up and said, “BJ Fernea wants you to work on a project with her. That’s so *cool*!!!”

BJ was tenacious — something I only appreciated when it wasn’t directed at me! You couldn’t say no to her — heaven knows I dodged my share of her phone calls and, in one memorable instance, spent a little extra time in the supply closet because I’d heard her in the hallway and knew she was coming to ask for an update on a project I hadn’t yet had a chance to work on. But her heart was always in the right place, and I appreciated that.

I loved that she was so down to earth and easy to talk to. If anyone had a reason to be pretentious, it was BJ, but she abhorred pretension and had no patience for it. And as someone who has a distinct allergy to theory and methodology, I deeply appreciated that BJ’s method of learning was talking to people and learning their stories. Who cares what the theorists say? This is something I’ve seen and heard with my own eyes.

It’s so hard to try to sum up the life of someone who cast such a large shadow. If there’s anything that I’ve learned in my ten years at Texas, it’s that our program was put on the map thanks to the efforts of a handful of people, and BJ Fernea was a significant part of that. We are the richer for having had her with us, and we are the poorer for having lost her.

December 4, 2008


16.  Amr Hafez says

When I was a small child, my mother was a graduate student at UT. We had moved from Egypt when I was 8 years old and I felt very out of place in Texas.

The Ferneas opened their home to me as if I was a member of the family. I had no greater pleasure at that age than visiting the Ferneas on weekends.

BJ treated me with kindness and fairness, but she was always firm with me. I can think of no finer thing to do for a small child than she did for me.

When we were children, David, Laura Ann, and Laila were like siblings to me. David and I took great pleasure in teasing Laura Ann, as I am sure she took pleasure in pointing out how immature we were.

I still remember that Laura Ann needed to repeatedly bang her head against the pillow before going to sleep.

I have too many more memories to list them all, but I would just like to thank BJ and the rest of the Ferneas for what they did for me.

December 4, 2008


17.  Susan Sage Heinzelman says

BJ was a scholar and a feminist whose life and career were marked by innumerable moments of grace and generosity. She will be deeply missed.

December 4, 2008


18.  Bob Vitalis says

She was my guide and mentor, along with Bob, when I arrived in Austin in 1987 to teach. Bless them both. We all cherish her so much.

December 4, 2008


19.  Lawrence Wright says

When BJ became your friend, that was it. I was so fortunate that I fell into that category. It was she who got me into Saudi Arabia when I was working on my book about 9/11, “The Looming Tower.” Without that, I don’t know how I could have done it. She counseled me, she prodded me, she inspired me, whether we were home in Austin or bumping into each other in Cairo. She carried herself gracefully, humbly, but always aware of her value and her mission. Somehow she never grew old, perhaps because she never stopped caring. What a wonderful, admirable life she lived. I will keep her in mind as a model for what is left of mine.

December 4, 2008


20.  Jenny White says

I’m so grateful to BJ for mentoring me when I was a graduate student. In my very first year at UT, she gave me responsibility for organizing the editing of a book. I had never done anything like that before, but she seemed to assume that I could do it just fine. It wasn’t paid work, but much more valuable — an internship in the scholarly life, about which I knew nothing. She encouraged me to give a talk to her class, my very first lecture. And I copied her menu and organization when I started having my own dinner parties. (I used to come early to her parties and stay afterwards to help clean up and thus got to meet the most fascinating people who were staying with the Ferneas.) She was an incredibly talented and generous person.

Once when I commented on how enormously productive BJ was, despite having to take care of a household and three children, she told me, “You have a choice. You can take a nap, or you can write.”

When I was about to go into the field for the first time, I asked for her advice. She said, “The most important thing is to write down everything. If you’re sitting at a table and there’s something carved in the wood, write that down too.” It was the best fieldwork advice anyone ever gave me.

I am honored to have been counted among BJ’s many friends and lucky to have met her at a time when I was pretty raw clay beneath her steady hand. The world will miss her. My heart and thoughts go out to Bob and Laura Ann, David and Leyla and their families.

December 5, 2008


21.  Rolando Hinojosa-Smith says

I first heard of BJ from Américo Paredes who admired
her work. Happily enough, I was on the Executive Committee when she became a parttime member of
the English Department. A great loss.

December 5, 2008


22.  Seteney Shami says

I first met BJ on a trip she made to Jordan in the mid 80s and I was at Yarmouk University. We spent a couple of memorable days wandering around villages and neighborhoods. Since that time she was a constant support and inspiration, to myself, my students of anthropology from Yarmouk and to my mother, a writer making forays into publishing in the U.S. BJ made a place for all of us in her edited volumes and helped us become better at what we do.
On behalf of myself and my mother, Janset Berkok Shami, I offer my condolences to Bob and the family – our hearts are with you

December 5, 2008


23.  Pat Taylor says

When I first became involved in Middle Eastern dance, I devoured every shred of information concerning Middle Eastern culture, especially the lives of Middle Eastern women. BJ was hugely important to the budding bellydance scene in Austin. She very generously shared her knowledge of women in the Middle East with us, speaking to the Austin Bellydance Association. She dispelled the prejudices that held that Middle Eastern cultures were misogynistic; she explained the relationship between Islam and Middle Eastern dance, talked about the acceptance of female sexuality in Islam. She spoke about the contrast between her own Catholic girlhood’s fear and loathing of female sexuality and the Islamic acceptance of sexuality between husband and wife as a gift from God. Her books and films rendered complex portraits of strong Islamic women, engaged in social change, at great costs to themselves. In her books, she got inside the female cultures as only a woman could, making it possible for Westerners to lay aside their prejudices to understand their lives and values.

She will be greatly missed.

December 5, 2008


24.  Annes McCann-Baker says

I keep thinking how BJ was the first to “do it all” of the women I knew of my generation. Family, friends, career, creativity, and travel. It was not always easy for her, but she made it seem so. I’ll always appreciate her example.

December 5, 2008


25.  Pam Beal says

I know BJ’s daughter Laura Ann from Reed (and since then) and can’t thank BJ enough for raising such a person as LA and leaving her as one of her legacies to the world.

December 5, 2008


26.  Persis Karim says

I was a student of BJ’s from 1990-1998 when I attended UT as a graduate student –MA in Middle East Studies and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. BJ embodied the idea of “generosity of spirit” –for students, faculty, everyone she met. I am a professor myself now, and I try to emulate what BJ did for me and so many other students–to believe in them, in their ideas, their dreams, and to empower them to learn, to teach and to practice truth and justice. Recently, a student of my own wrote me a moving note in which she described herself as a little bird flying beneath my wings. I realize now that it was BJ who was one of the people at UT who taught me to fly and who taught me how to trust the sky of my own mind and heart. I’ll miss her and I’m grateful for all the ways she taught me.

December 5, 2008


27.  Marjorie Currey says

In my almost 40 year career as an oral book reviewer, I have only reviewed one book twice: Guests of the Sheik. When BJ came to SMU, she was always most generous with her time. Her scholarship and her personality have greatly enriched my life.

December 5, 2008


28.  Chris A. Strickling says

In my 40’s, I returned to UT to learn about the academic side of feminism. My first course was “Intro to Women’s Studies,” taught by BJ. What she had to say, and how she said it, pretty much set my hair on fire. She showed an interest in me, the older female feminist student who was lapping up every word from the front row. She asked me to come to her office hours, which I did, and used her considerable insight to nudge me in the direction I wanted to go. Later, I took a Middle Eastern studies course from her that introduced me to the women writers she loved. She wrote my strongest letter of recommendation for graduate school at UT. I phoned to thank her the week that I defended my dissertation, sort of shyly because I wasn’t sure she’d remember me, but of course she did. BJ had none of the snobbery of the academy and all the knowledge and wisdom, and an extraordinary energy. I am so happy to have known her, and been known by her. My sincerest condolences to her family. We are all better because of her.

December 5, 2008


29.  deena mersky says

My condolences to Bob and the family:

I am feeling a deep sadness since reading the news in this morning’s paper.

I first met BJ when her Laila and my Ruth were Montessori school classmates. That was in the late sixties, when both families were newish to Austin. Over the years, many other areas of mutual interest emerged. BJ’s first book was written in the silent refuge provided by an unused guest house in my Pemberton backyard. It was gratifying to know that following her publishing success
she achieved an academic appointment, which came with an office space at the University. In the early days, I think of BJ’s tenacity in pursuing her writing and teaching interests as inspiring many others to pursue similar goals. I will forever carry in my heart the memories of BJ as a bright, energetic, productive, and highly principled person. Vaya con dios, BJ.

December 5, 2008


30.  A.R. Norton says

It is common to hear friends refer to BJ and her tireless energy, but she wearied like all of the rest of us. The difference was BJ’s capacity to drive herself even when she was pooped; all the while without relinquishing her humor or her impatience with silly rules. She did not know the meaning of “can’t” so she was hard to refuse–though you might have ten things on your to-do list, you knew that she had twice as many. BJ inspired people to reach down inside themselves and to do good things that they had never considered doing before. She was a mentor long before the word became a cliche.
I knew BJ, usually from a distance, for about a quarter century. During a brief stint as a visiting professor at UT in the mid-1980s, I spent some long, memorable days with her. At day’s end, I would discover that she had already organized a dinner party that would have her home brimming with delightful people, or that there was a dizzying evening agenda yet to come of meetings, receptions or lectures.
I cherish her memory as a caring, wise friend, an exemplary teacher, and, most of all, as a women who truly loved humanity, and who showed that love through her films, her books and her relentless compassion.

December 5, 2008


31.  Hatem Natsheh says

BJ was great person and beautiful human,who did so much for so many people without expecting any return. R.I.P BJ.
My condolences to Bob and the family

December 5, 2008


32.  Lynn Hoggard says

I was happy to know B.J. through the Texas Institute of Letters, where I learned about her work and then read GUESTS OF THE SHEIK. She was a brilliant pioneer in women’s studies whose insights helped lay the foundation for the rest of us. The wholeness of her vision of these women stands, timeless and universal.

December 5, 2008


33.  Virginia Raymond says

Sometime in the early to mid-1980s, I learned about a monthly series of women’s studies talks at UT on Wednesday afternoons. I was new to Austin, had no affiliation with UT outside of the law school, showed up at these women’s studies events without knowing a soul, and had no way to explain being there other than a weak “I’m interested…” I can’t remember the contents of a single presentation from that time. Nor can I remember the names or faces of anyone else who took part in these talks, but I vividly remember B.J. Fernea. With warmth and grace she welcomed this stranger and encouraged me to participate; with unfailing generosity she greeted this bare acquaintance when we ran into each other over the years. B.J. Fernea made herself unforgettable for her extraordinary kindness as well as for her important scholarship. I hope her husband, daughter, and other loved ones find solace in each other, their community, and their memories of this wonderful woman.

December 5, 2008


34.  Audrey Shabbas says

I don’t remember the first time I met Elizabeth (though she soon became BJ), but I think it must have been in the 1970s. She was of course a mentor to me, and she knew it. Always guiding and role-modeling in the gentlest, kindest way. But here are three incidents that are still present in my memory:
September 16, 1982
I had invited BJ to Berkeley to give a lecture and show her film “Women Under Seige” released earlier that same year. It was the film that introduced us to the remarkable, brave women of the Rashadiyah refugee camp in Lebanon. There were easily a hundred people who had turned out for that evening program in the sanctuary of The First Congregational Church of Berkeley. And by the film’s end we were all wanting to know from BJ what happened to “Umm Shivago” one of the films most enchanting women. Her films had a way of connecting us on a personal level to the women who shared their lives with BJ and her film crew, and then finally with us, the audience. It was a remarkable and memorable evening and when it ended we returned home. BJ always stayed at our home in those years, whenever she was in Berkeley.
The next morning we awoke to the news that the massacres at Sabra and Shatila had taken place during those very hours the night before when we had sat spell-bound during BJ’s program.

Spring of 1984
Carol El-Shaieb and I had been hired by the San Jose Museum of Art in San Jose, California, to do the teacher’s outreach programming for an exhibition ” The Traditional Crafts of Saudi Arabia.” The centerpiece of the work was to be a full-day’s teacher workshop program featuring Elizabeth Fernea, along with Larry Michalak (UC Berkeley) and Ayad Al-Qazzaz (Cal State University, Sacramento), among others. Everything was going smoothly when suddenly the museum’s Board of Directors began putting forth questions and obstacles and finally broke our contract by cancelling the program.
The teacher workshop went forward afterall, in a neighboring building, without the museum’s sponsorship but with the enthusiastic support and collaboration of all our invited speakers, including BJ of course. Participating teachers thoroughly enjoyed their sessions with BJ and their lunchtime trek to the museum which had of course, to admit them. We had garnered much publicity and attendance by calling a press conference and announcing that Carol and I were filing suit against the museum on the grounds of discrimination. . . as the very people whose credentials they were contesting – Fernea’s, Michalak’s, and Al-Qazzaz’s – were the three of the some eight speakers for the day who happened to be on the infamous ADL Blacklist. “Yes” a member of the Board admited during discovery “we were taking directions from the ADL” as delivered to us by a museum Board member who was also on the Board of AIPAC. Our suit was then extended to include both the ADL and AIPAC. The three named defendents – Museum, ADL and AIPAC – made an out of court settlement. The program in the meantime had been a tremendous success!

October of 1986
Daughter Jenan, a high school senior, was invited to Austin to stay with the Ferneas and look at the University as a potential choice. In fact it had been her first choice. BJ arranged for her to sit in on Honor’s Program classes, meet with mutual friends, Caroline and John Williams, and get a feel for what student life would be like at UT Austin. She came away realizing how much she missed Berkeley, her friends (her family?) and how far away Texas was physically. In the end, she chose a school closer to home. But we will never forget the kindness of BJ and Bob and friends in Austin who helped her in that important decision making.

Thank you for indulging me in these reminiscences. Thank you Elizabeth for enriching all of our lives.

December 5, 2008


35.  Maan M. Hamze says

I remember the first time I met BJ. Back in 1981. You’ll be greatly missed. My condolences to Bob and the family.

December 5, 2008


36.  Sue Rodi says

I remember teaching for many years with BJ in the UT English department and especially remember fondly a program she presented for women’s studies in which we teachers in the program got to try on abayas and other female wearing apparel of Middle Eastern women. I also loved reading her book “Guests of the Sheik”–and have it sitting prominently on my book shelf to this day. She once spoke to the local branch of the American Assocation of University Women, after I twisted her arm to do so. She will be remembered by me and others for her graciousness and goodness. Requiescat in pace! Sue Rodi

December 5, 2008


37.  Laurie King (Irani) says

This news came as a blow. B.J. was such a wonderful writer and bridge builder, but more important, she was a fabulous person.

I taught her book to a class of older students years ago, just at the 1991 bombing campaign was beginning in Iraq. By the time they’d finished reading the book, the students were so worried about the people in Guests of the Sheikh and their family members.

Condolences to the entire Fernea family, here and abroad, where BJ touched so many lives that her legacy will never die.

allah yarhama

December 5, 2008


38.  Betty Sue Flowers says

In the late 70’s, BJ and I enjoyed many adventures together in our quest to start a women’s studies program at U.T. She was passionate, committed, tenacious–and also generous, kind, and full of laughter. I loved her advice, full of enthusiasm and care. For a long time, nepotism rules prevented her from gaining an appointment at U.T. But in her role as an independent scholar, she became a mentor to many of the women faculty and a leader on campus. She truly made her own place in the world and helped so many others find theirs.

December 5, 2008


39.  Steven Hyland says

The passing of BJ Fernea is a tremendous personal loss for me. This is very difficul for me to write. She was my mentor as an undergraduate and graduate student at UT. More importantly, she was my friend, someone genuinely interested in my well-being as a person.

As a less-than-spectacular undergrad at UT, I cannot say I deserved the attention she gave me and the belief she had in me.

The success I have experienced as a graduate student and young scholar is a direct result of her friendship, guidance and care.

I mourn her loss. My condolences to Bob, Laura Ann, Leyla and David, and their families.

I am rich for having been friends by BJ.

December 5, 2008


40.  Karin Wilkins says

When I arrived in Austin 13 years ago, BJ went out of her way to welcome me here. She was generous, kind, and provocative. I loved our conversations, and missed her terribly when BJ and Bob moved. The world is a sadder place without BJ.

December 5, 2008


41.  Robert Flynn says

B.J. was a quiet force and quite a force. I remember her coming to our room before a TIL banquet to try to make sense of the Palestinian situation to us. She was clearly depressed about the occupation and repression and saw little hope for peace in the region in her lifetime.

A great soul has left us and is the world is darker because of it.

December 5, 2008


42.  beth been says

BJ Fernea had a huge impact on my life. I probably wouldn’t have gotten a degree in Middle Eastern Studies or traveled to the Arab World without her presence at the University of Texas Center for Middle Eastern Studies. I will try to continue passing on the lessons she taught me about a multitude of things. I tried to sum up Elizabeth Fernea’s impact on my life in a recently post: Googling My Mother. My condolences to her family and friends. Beth

December 5, 2008


43.  Mine Cinar says

To BJ’s family, friends and colleagues,

I am so sorry to hear the sad news and I wish peace of mind to Bj’s family and friends. She was a great friend and a colleague to us all. She was a pathfinder and she made enormous contributions to gender studies for which we will be grateful.

Mine Cinar
Department of Economics
School of Business Adminstration
Loyola University Chicago

December 5, 2008


44.  Tura Campanella Cook says

It has been a lopsided relationship for over 30 years. BJ was there with support, laughter, and ideas. She was a wonderful person and role model. I was so lucky to know her.

My deep sympathy and love to Bob, Laura Ann, Leila, David, their spouses and children.

December 5, 2008


45.  Mary O'Grady says

What a loss to Bob and her children and grandchildren, and to the rest of us.
B.J. was the greatest teacher I ever had. She opened whole new worlds to me, and showed me perspectives I would never have seen otherwise.
I hope her family finds comfort at this sad time with memories of her goodness and strength and brilliance.

December 5, 2008


46.  Eleanor Doumato says

I think she’s the reason I had the courage to go back to Columbia to finish my PhD after 14 years of raising a family. I went to a conference on Arab women at Georgetown in 1985, where I found myself looking from a distance at friends I had known in school, who were by then professors. When I was at Columbia in the late 1960s, any kind of social history was considered a joke by my professors, and women’s studies was unheard of, so I had nothing to bring to the conference except my curiosity. That’s when I first met BJ. She treated me like a colleague, even inviting me to join her and some of her friends at dinner, and her friends were the leading lights— people whose books sat on my shelves, people who were to become my friends and colleagues too over the years.
In 1985— the year my youngest child went to pre-school— I had begun to long for the opportunity to write my dissertation. I had five years of ethnographic notes on women and the family in Saudi Arabia packed in boxes, and not one clue what to do with them. It was BJ who inspired me to open those boxes and start writing. She gave me guidance throughout the whole dissertation process, and then it was she who got me involved in AMEWS. The most important thing she did for me I watched her do for many other hopeful would-be scholars: she touched our shoulders with her magic wand and said, “Yes, you can.” Because of BJ, we did.

December 5, 2008


47.  Geraldine Heng says

There are so many extraordinary memories associated with BJ.

One that encapsulates her sensitivity, her grasp of institutional mentalities, her intellectual generosity to junior women, & her support of urgent needs outside her field, had to do with our arguing, in the 1990s, for the need to hire an Asian Americanist.

BJ said, at a meeting, enunciating very slowly for some of our colleagues,”Gerry Heng is a fine scholar, but she is an Asian American MEDIEVALIST. We need an Asian American who is an ASIAN AMERICANIST.”

The memory still makes me smile.

I will miss you, BJ. I will never forget you.

Gerry Heng

December 5, 2008


48.  Ruth Roded says

My last memories of BJ Fernea are from the MESA meeting in Montreal, November 2007. AMEWS was honoring her because of the reports that she was very ill. After the award dinner, I approached her and told her that one of my junior colleagues was following her lead and moving from ME gender studies to the study of Palestinian youth culture. “Have her contact me”, she said, writing her address on a piece of paper. A pioneer, yet accessible, weak in body but strong of mind, still thinking of how she could help others. She set a high standard for all of us.

Ruth Roded


December 6, 2008


49.  Nimat Hafez Barazangi says

Dear BJ Family, Friends, and Colleagues,

It is with extreme sadness that I read BJ’s Remembrance. Yet, I, and I am sure many others, are celebrating her dedicated life to the Middle East women’s studies before it became an official field.

I am particularly sad that BJ, apparently, was not strong enough to follow-through on what is happening to the Iraqi women, not only because she was, perhaps, the first American woman to venture with the Iraqi village women in the 60’s, but also because she and her generation of scholars brought special vigor to the field.

I still remember how angry she was when myself and few others (who happened to be all males then) were arguing with Fatima Mernissi ( in an international conference on women in the Arabo-Islamic culture at Cornell U in 1988) as to why she (Fatima) does not want to include the understanding of religious thought and movements (particularly Islam) as being an important element in understanding Middle Eastern Women’s issues. Needless to say, gone are those days when such issues and their debates were truly lived.

I am celebrating the fact that Both Fatima and BJ realized at later years, as evidence in their late writings, the role of religion, being at the heart and soul of what was happening, specially now. I am, however, sad that religion (not only as a belief system and culture, but also as a dogma) is being studied by the “born-again experts” from the wrong angel and for the wrong reasons!

Thank you BJ for enciting me to write this reflection even when you are in Heaven.


December 6, 2008


50.  Saladin Al-Jurf says

BJ was the primary reader/thesis advisor for my master’s degree. It is no exaggeration to say that she was a surrogate mother to me, and I will be forever grateful that she found a way into my life.

She was one of the most down to earth and unpretentious people I have ever known. She was gentle, kind, caring, and supportive. Even in that gentleness, there was something about her demeanor that clarified my vision and gave me the confidence to write my thesis.

That being said, there was no confusing her character with timidity. She had a tremendous heart she consistently put into action. When it looked like my thesis was not going to be approved, it was BJ who stepped up to the plate and went to bat for me. I do not think that I could have crossed the finish line with anyone else at the helm.

Rest in peace, BJ. You leave behind a legacy of people who will forever love and cherish your memory .

December 6, 2008


51.  caroline attie says

I will always associate my years at UT with memories of BJ and Bob and their home that was open to each and every one of us as students at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies. I was also lucky to spend some time with BJ when she visited Jeddah in 2003 to give a lecture at a women’s college. We joked about her wearing the abayah and how it reminded her of her years in Iraq n the 50s. I remember telling BJ that I had trouble keeping up with her pace of activity as she was on the go during her 4 day stay-meeting ex-students and people who had read her books and wanted to meet with her after her lecture at college. She smiled at that comment.She certainly touched my life and I cannot imagine Austin without her. I will miss you BJ.
My sincere condolences to Bob and to your children.

December 6, 2008


52.  michael gilsenan says

I am saddened to hear of BJ’s death. She and Bob were enormously generous to a young and very confused graduate student years ago in Cairo (1964-65) and at our meetings in later years. Her wonderful energies, writing gifts, imaginative and thoughtful filming lit up what was sometimes a drab field beset by all too many problems external and internal. She and Bob had this huge, lived appreciation of Egyptian, Iraqi and Moroccan worlds among many others and some of their generous understanding rubbed off on the rest of us. I have the warmest memories of BJ. What a contribution she has made!

December 6, 2008


53.  Aleya Rouchdy says

I will always remember BJ.
I will always remember BJ’s sweet smile and warm laughter.
I will always remember how she enjoyed the note, Nelly, Hoda and I, wrote to her when she gave birth to Laura Ann in Cairo.
I will always remember her kindness and generosity towards me and my son Amr Hafez when we were in Texas
I will always remember BJ’s passion and commitment to human causes
I will always remember BJ as a beautiful human being.
My deepest condolences to Bob, Laura Ann, David and Leyly.

December 6, 2008


54.  Barbara Larson says

Bob and BJ were among the first professional anthropologists (really, BJ qualifies) I met who specialized in the ME, and both been wonderful mentors and supporters through the years. Not only did I love and teach BJ’s books and films in my courses, I also well remember her warmth, wit, humor, and feisty, no-nonsense approach to many academic issues in the field. She did so much to bring alive and give voice to Middle Eastern women, nurture young scholars, and provide a wise and discerning perspective on the Middle East as a whole. BJ, thanks for all you have contributed. You will be forever appreciated and much missed!

December 6, 2008


55.  Victoria Hammond says

We have lost another of our great ones. I first met B.J. through Carl and Mary Leiden when I returned to UT from the Middle East. She was so warm and welcoming and encouraging to me and all of those around her. Others have written of her amazing ability to somehow do it all and inspire others to try to keep up. My best to Bob and the family. Everyone will miss her.

December 6, 2008


56.  Stephen and Stefanie Griffith says

BJ, she made me laugh harder, life fuller, think harder, embrace wider. Her mere presence inspired humanity and intelligence. But what I miss most is that sparkle in her eyes. She really had eyes that would light up and ignite all near with passion and warmth. It was a humbling honor to call her “friend.” Our hearts reach out to her beloved family, who lost the lighthouse guiding home. She is in our hearts always.

December 6, 2008


57.  Salah-Dine Hammoud says

Like so many others among B.J’s firiends and acquaintances, I am saddened for the news of her death. She has touched so many of our lives that she will always be remembered as the caring, generous and helpful person and friend that she was. My last memory of her was during the 2007 Middle EasternStudies Association Conference in Montreal. I was most fortunate to have joined her and Bob for dinner along with my wife, Jane and B.J’s long time friends, the McCAnn-Bakers. B.J. was frail but her wit, her tenacity and good spirits were still in evidence.
We first met her in Casablanca in 1971, and I ended up attending graduate school at UT. During those years, B.J. and Bob opened their home to so many us graduate students, visiting scholars and passers by.
Subsequently I was the benefeciary of much encouragement, mentoring and support from B.J. and above all her friendship. While we celbrate her and her life and many achievments, will miss her dearly, and our thoughts are with Bob and the family.

December 7, 2008

December 6, 2008


58.  Shafeeq Ghabra says

I haven’t felt so sad in a long time. With her passing away BJ leaves so many friends, admirers, former students and many of her faithful readers lasting memories of eternal friendship. Her humanism expressed in her books and films enriched the understanding of the Arab world in the USA and beyond. By focusing on people struggling for a better future BJ. Stood for all the symbols that add to our common humanity and deep longing for justice. BJ had a practical simple optimism that was so empowering to all of those who came to know her. I first met BJ in Austin Texas in 1983 when I arrived with my wife Taghreed at the University of Texas for our PhD program. She oriented us to the University and encouraged us every step of the way. Our friendship and admiration of what she stood for continued over the years. We met many times after graduating in 1987 at the MESA conferences and whenever visiting Austin and contributing to her book “Remembering Childhood in the Middle East.” The last we met was when I gave a workshop at Austin in January 2001 and had the honor of BJ introducing me. It was a highlight to our friendship when she visited us in Kuwait on more that one research trip. We spent during such visits days talking and exchanging ideas and experiences. I would like to convey my deepest sorrow and condolences to my mentor during my PhD program Bob and to Laura Ann, David, and Leyla.

December 7, 2008


59.  Chris Scherer says

I was a student of Professor Fernea’s “Human Dimensions of Social Change” class in the spring of 82-83. I remember her as a true gentlelady who did much to expose me to the daily life experiences of a people, i.e., Middle Easterners, whom we in the West need to do so much more to understand. I offer my sincerest condolences to her colleagues and family.

December 7, 2008


60.  Taghreed Alqudsi-ghabra says

I could not help stopping tears rolling when I read the email that Barbara Immroth my friend and advisor forwarded about BJ Fernea’s passing away. Barbara has been my good update for what’s happening in Austin and at UT since my graduation in 1988. BJ’s passing away has brought all beautiful memories of the years of our life since we were graduate students at UT Austin. When my husband Shafeeq, my daughter Haneen and myself arrived to Austin in early 1982, BJ was the first person we met. Over the years, she became my friend, mentor, family and motivator. Her belief in me and in women generally especially Middle Eastern women graduate students, have always provided so many the direction let alone the motivation to excel and accomplish.
My beautiful memories of her are numerous. Our first meeting of the late Edward Said was at a dinner she and Bob hosted for him at their homey house, which was a gathering place for so many who shared their vision of bringing peace to the Middle East. She visited us in Kuwait twice, the first when in 1988 when Bob and her were updating their “ Arab World: Personal Encounters”. The second when she visited in the mid 90s and I had the honor of chauffeuring her all over Kuwait and accompanying her for two weeks. In early 1986, she entrusted me with attending a conference in DC introducing her film” Women under Siege” when I was still a graduate student. She always believed in one and provided the needed conviction and stamina for accomplishing.
When I graduated, BJ hosted a beautiful dinner for me at her own house for friends at UT Austin. I still have BJ’s favorite and best fish recipe, in her own handwriting, which she learned in Iraq when she and Bob were in the 50s. when I visited Austin two years ago, BJ was recovering from surgery. My daughter Zaina, our friend Hassan and myself had tea at Bob and Bj”s house in Austin. That was my last seeing her, yet the memories we are left with, that BJ are part of, are numerous and will always be with us. May God bless you, have mercy on your soul and provide your loved ones, especially Bob, Laura Ann, Laila and David the solace and comfort needed after her passing away. BJ will always live with us all.

December 7, 2008


61.  Susan Bright says

Elizabeth was one of the first people I met in Austin when I came in 1971. Ann and Jim Bill befriended my first husband and I. I remember spending time at their house with BJ and her husband. Her work with women and women writers in the Middle East is legend. She really was a key to a level of cultural understanding we needed then, need now. Her work will be important always.

Condolences to her family and close friends from one of her long time admirers.

Susan Bright
Poet, publisher
Plain View Press

December 7, 2008


62.  Neil Nehring says

When I first arrived at UT in 1986, B.J. and Bob were very friendly, encouraging, and supportive, and I’ve always appreciated it. I’m not surprised to find that I’m not the only one who had that experience.

December 7, 2008


63.  Gail Minault says

BJ Fernea was a constant source of inspiration to me. When I first arrived on the UT campus, a newly-minted Phd, I had been hired to teach the history of India (which I still do). But as someone whose research dealt with Muslims in South Asia, I also got in touch with the Middle East Studies Center, then directed by Bob Fernea. I soon met BJ and was fascinated by her work that portrayed Muslim women as active and creative members of their societies, not as veiled cyphers. As my own work turned toward studying Muslim women in South Asia and the history of their education and roles in social change, BJ’s work showed the way toward reinterpreting Muslim society, including the feminine dimension as an essential ingredient. In animating the Women’s Studies program at UT, in heading the Middle Eastern Studies Association nationally, and in mentoring women scholars and activists in the Middle East, BJ was an indispensable pioneer. She has shown the way to countless students and fellow scholars over the years, and I count myself lucky to have been among them.

December 7, 2008


64.  Karen Bordelon Hartwell says

Although I came to know B. J. Fernea in other ways through the years, my first encounter with her was the most memorable. I had been a staff member in the University’s Plan II Honors Program long enough to realize that for the most part, staff workers were invisible to faculty. I first met Dr. Fernea in the check out line at Garner & Smith Bookstore where she introduced herself to me. While we stood in line, numerous faculty members passed by, stopping to greet her. She took the time to introduce me to each one of them! I was astounded. I will never forget her for that incredible kindness.

December 8, 2008


65.  Donna R. Davis says

I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Fernea but I have worked wiith her son, David and heard him speak of his mother with admiration and love. Having read the other comments in ths posting and the obituary it is clear that Dr. Fernea passed to her son the qualities for which she is remembered and respected. What a wonderful legacy to her memory.

December 8, 2008


66.  sandra carter says

I love Bob and BJ so much that a little note here can never express my feelings of loss or my gratitude for so many years through which I benefitted from being counted a friend. My condolences to Bob and family and everyone who knew BJ! BJ will be missed every single day. Whether in the CMES, class, Morocco, the editing room or in their warm and inviting home, BJ was always supportive and caring and loving to me. I hope to dedicate my book to her memory, since she was such a loving mentor and guide. It is hard to imagine life without her, she touched so many, many people including myself. I remember her from my first year working in the CMES in the 70s when she encouraged me to go back to school, all the way through mentoring my dissertation in 1999! Like many here mention, she was always a heartfelt presence, so giving and warm no matter how much of her own work she had to accomplish, there was always time and encouragement for those of us in her orbit. Thank you BJ!

December 9, 2008


67.  Maura G. Darrouzet says

On a Sunday morning, more than thirty years ago, B.J.Fernea and I, strangers, started chatting after mass at the Ctholic Student’s Center. The following Sunday we did the same, and thus a pattern developed, so gradually the remarkable person who became my friend was revealed to me.
B.J’s joy in life was infectious. Her curiosity about the world was not confined to her scholarship or her writing. She was as likely to give you a receipe together with its provinence, or share with you her excitement at the discovery of a writer new to her, sometimes in the mystery genre, as she was to provide you with yet another insight into the world of Islam.
Her writing was as she was: notable for clarity, directness, simplicity and honesty.
B.J. and Bob, Laura Anne, Leila and David, shared the warmth of their home, the generosity of their hospitality with many of us.
I am grateful for having had her in my life. I am grateful that now, rereading In Search of Islamic Feminism, I can always, find her in her work.

December 9, 2008

December 9, 2008


68.  Alicia M. Gonzalez says

B.J. was there when we celebrated my doctoral defense, but she was also there many times before when I turned the corner and chatted with her. She was a great source of strength for all women scholars making their way.
My condolences to Bob, the family, and all who loved her.

December 9, 2008


69.  Naomi Shihab Nye says

Oh beautiful, kind, always-honest BJ — a hero to so many of us! We needed you so much in this world. Thank you for all you did to inform, uplift, describe, and connect communities…thank you for always speaking up for women and the experiences of people and places too often forgotten or disrespected. We treasure you forever. Deepest condolences to all your family. Ongoing gratitude for your life, your generosity, and your wisdom.

December 10, 2008


70.  Alistair Tees says

I spent the morning making plans to return to my old hometown to attend BJ’s memorial and thinking about all she has meant to me and my family. Her son David directed me to this site and I have read each previous post. It does not surprise me at all that BJ had such a profound impact on the people she befriended, mentored and loved over the years. She did the same for me.
I met BJ as a 5 year old boy in Austin. She was raising her children and still had room in her heart and home for 3 more boys. Over the years I kneeded her bread dough just for a taste of her bread, played football in her living room, slept over, ate her meals, wrested with her children and generally became part of her extended family. Her love, council, and respect was most prized and appreciated.
From the start I knew that going to the Fernea’s house would be interesting. There was always a graduate student, scholar, foreign dignitary, musician or belly dancer at the house, and they typcially didn’t mind sharing. In the middle of Central Texas, they were able to introduce me to my Father’s commander from when he was with the British Army in Jordan. The Fernea’s even took me to Morocco as a young man.
BJ was my friend, my surragate mother, the mother of my very good friends, and my contact to a very broad and fascinating world. My heart aches.
Love always…

December 10, 2008


71.  Caroline Williams says

I also join the many who mourn the departure of B.J. Fernea. I was very lucky to be a link in the silsila of her life. When John and I came to Austin in 1970 we moved into a house B.J. had rented for us. Overcome by babies she lent me Laura Ann and Laila as fabulous mother’s helpers, and the silsila continues as they remain friends to my daughters now themselves mothers. As my children grew, B.J. initiated a teaching niche for me at U.T. She also encouraged me to write. My last adventure with B.J. was in Cairo in 2000 when in her role as writer, film maker, interviewer, and doyenne of a large rented apartment in Zamalek, she oversaw the production of “Living with the Past”. The film deals with the people who share space with the Islamic monuments in the old city. Today, as the Historic Cairo Restoration Program remakes the historic area into a tourist friendly space, the central issues of B.J.’s film gain in relevance. The book she edited, “Living with the Past”, which was to accompany the film, will be published posthumously by the Ismaili Institute.
B.J. was a lady of talent and energy and compassion and intellect and humour; a real friend; and a worthy model and guide.

December 10, 2008


72.  John Langmore says

I’m proud to be able to claim BJ as my friend. Reading these notes from so many corners of the world reminds me what a distinguished and beloved person she was to so many people. They reflect how wide she cast her net of friendship.

To this day I have such a clear memory of her and Mrs. Hamilton offering encouragement from the steps of the back porch to me and David as we rolled up our bedrolls before heading off to cowboy in Montana. She smiled knowing we wouldn’t come back as the same two young men that headed north out of her driveway.

I also remember fondly my last visit with her as she was packing the house to move to San Diego. Laura Ann was frantically trying to deal with decades of accumulated research, cabinets that hadn’t been opened since they were filled and deciding what 75% of things should go. BJ sat at the kitchen table in her bathrobe serenely thumbing through a small basket of buttons, old coins and pens, visiting quietly with me, unfazed by the pandamonium piled high all around her. Although Laura Ann may not be able to appreciate it as such, it was an incredibly endearing moment.

But as a son and a father, I think I admire most how incredibly proud BJ was of her children. Laila was always embarassed when BJ would brag on her work in law school. I simply admired a mother that could see so clearly what a wonderful legacy whe was leaving for all of us that are friends to the Ferneas.

I’m sad for those of us left behind, but I’m inspired by and proud to be even a small part of the life BJ lived. She was an extraordinary woman.

Bob, Laila, Laura Ann and David – I’m so very sorry I will miss you on Saturday. I will be with you in spirit and please know how glad I am to claim you all as friends and how honored I am to have known “Mama”.


December 10, 2008


73.  John Downing ['JD'] says

I will keep this brief, because BJ would want it so, though I would love to extend these comments. I worked at UT-Austin from 1990-2003. I first saw her when she was part of new faculty orientation and spoke to us, with Barbara Harlow, about the attempt to create a meaningful E306 English Composition course, which had recently been shot down in flames in a furore of flak from terrified rightists who in turn terrified the UT authorities. I thought ‘Aha!’ – here is someone who cares for studentsand their independent thinking and writing. I first actually met her a little later when she needed editing access for her ‘The Struggle for Peace’. I was in the Radio-TV-Film department and managed to secure it. Reading her and Bob’s books – not all of them! – followed, together with many terrific dinners, parties, discussions. Whenever I teach my survey course on Middle Eastern Cinemas, some of those writings are always on the required list.
BJ felt passionately for justice, in particular for women and for children. She felt very strongly about the urgency of a true peace embracing Palestinians’ rights for a decent, free and secure life, yet there was not an anti-Jewish bone in her body. And she did everything she could, as writer, teacher and documentarian, ‘to put her money where her mouth was,’ and not just to feel…
She succeeded in being strong *and gentle *and humorous *and self-deprecating. What a splendid life!

December 11, 2008


74.  Doris M. Stoddard says

Oh, yes….along with being a great writer and teacher, BJ was fun. Where was the very best MESA meeting ever? San Antonio, of course and who was in charge? BJ Fernea. She had taken over the Texas Historical Musem and there were Mexican musicians outdoors on one side and on the other, western music and dancing and food all around. Great times. And when BJ would visit here in Bethesda, we always had time to shop for clothes for the grandchildren. We loved doing that. We will miss you, kiddo. Love to all. Doris Stoddard , two of many thoughts

December 11, 2008


75.  mark buckner says

Whether it was Bob’s pancakes, or BJ’s rack of lamb, the table was always full on Bowman Street. I became best friends with David and remain so since our college days, and spent several various semesters living in the Fernea household, some time of which David lived in North Texas with my folks.
So I felt I was at home when I was with Bob and BJ, and they were always good to me and treated me like a second son, for which I will always be grateful.
BJ was special, they broke the mold after her, and she will not be forgotten.
My condolences to Bob, David, Laura Ann, Laila and their families. Be strong
Love Mark Buckner

December 12, 2008


76.  Roberta Micallef says

Dear Bj,
I remember the first time I met you. It was about 20 years ago in Washington DC. I was interning at the Middle East Institute. You had stopped by to meet your soon to be new teaching assistant. You were wearing what you would call an “unfussy” dress and sensible shoes. Behind that rather ordinary facade there turned out to be the most extraordinary woman. I am grateful for the paths that you opened for all of us and for the guidance you provided to us. But it wasn’t just that and it wasn’t just you. It was you and Bob, 3003 Bowman street, and Goliath too. You and Bob opened up your house and gave all of us nomadic graduate students a home and shelter from the ups and downs of graduate school. Your home became a space for intellectual debates, weddings, baby showers, cultural production and much more. I am sorry that I cannot be at your funeral. My children are under the weather as children tend to be in this season. I know you would understand. Tomorrow I will light a candle at our local Catholic church for you and then go home and share a bottle of Merlot with Bjorn and reminisce about all of the adventures I shared with you from Austin to Samarkand. Much love Roberta

December 12, 2008


77.  Philip Farah says

A beautiful, beautiful woman, who knew how to bring out the beauty of others in her work. Guests of the Sheik will always be a classic, and so she’ll always be remembered.

December 12, 2008


78.  Thomas Hartwell says

BJ was a great friend, sometimes mother, teacher, cook, advisor, and always an inspiration. I will miss her but will never forget what I have learned from her. I first met her while working at the Center for Middle East studies in 1975.She shared her love for life and a good meals with so many. I have to give her a lot of credit for my famous salads and a lot more. Thank you and all the Ferneas for being such an important part of my life all these years. Love, Tom Hartwell/Cairo

December 12, 2008


79.  Susan E Benson says

Guests of the Sheik is a book I have given over and over again to new students in Middle East Studies, and I enjoyed and admired her many other works and films — she was a remarkable person and will be very much missed.Allah yarhamha.

December 13, 2008


80.  Geneive Abdo says

Professor Fernea, as she was known to me as a young student in Austin, encouraged me to work in the Middle East and to also write books. One never knows at any moment in time those special people who influence our lives. But she certainly had a great impact on mine. As I wrote my first book in Cairo, I kept Guest of the Shiekh at my side. It is clearly one of the greatest books written about the Middle East in my lifetime.

I mourn her death and offer my sincere regrets to her family.

Geneive Abdo/Washington DC

December 13, 2008


81.  Randa Shaath says

My condolences to everyone who met this wonderful woman. BJ made everyone feel like family, with her kindness, generosity and advice.
I met her many years after I had been inspired by her books. BJ was like a mother to my husband Thomas Hartwell, I came along and she adopted me too. I will never forget that she hosted our wedding in Austin. Will always be remembered with love
Randa Shaath/Cairo

December 13, 2008


82.  Helena Woodard says

I am deeply saddened by BJ Fernea’s passing, and offer my condolences to Bob and other members of her family. BJ reached out to me and other faculty as a mentor, and she offered praise and encourgement consistently through the sometimes difficult academic process. But I will also remember her fondly in another way. Many years ago, when I visited with BJ and Bob, she introduced me to her beloved Greyhounds and informed me about abuses they suffered after years on the race track. Simply put, in addition to her many scholarly accomplishments, BJ was a staunch advocate who emoted warmth and serenity.

December 13, 2008


83.  Joanna Hitchcock says

When I joined UT Press in 1992, I was lucky enough to inherit BJ Fernea among the Press’s most distinguished authors. She, Annes McCann-Baker, and I soon established a pattern of meeting regularly for lunch to discuss not only her own work-in-progress but also that of her many colleagues, students, and friends around the world. A pioneer in her fields, she wrote so well that her books reached beyond the usual academic audiences to a broad circle of general readers. She introduced many good authors to the Press, never failed to respond to requests for advice, and often helped promising graduates turn rough drafts into polished and publishable books.

From the time we arrived in Austin, BJ and Bob included Martyn and me in their circle of friends, introducing us to people we have known ever since. We are very grateful to them for their many years of warm friendship, and we extend our deep sympathy to Bob and their family.

December 14, 2008


84.  John L. Esposito says

I had the privilege to know B.J. for several decades. She was a remarkable scholar, teacher and, even more importantly, person.

December 15, 2008


85.  Nancy Gallagher says

I remember with great fondness spending time with BJ when we both were living on the ARCE houseboat. She was renewing old acquaintances who had appeared in her book on Egypt ,and I was working on my book on malaria and cholera. We both enjoyed spending evenings looking out on the Nile and sharing the day’s adventures, which were invariably interesting . What a wonderful person with so many wonderful stories to tell.

December 15, 2008


86.  Mona Mikhail says

MESA meetings will never be the same without the warm presence of BJ Some of us always made it a point to get together with her from year to year even for a few fleeting moments between panels,and presentations. BJ was genuinely interested in the people she met, followed closely their progress, publications, promotions. She opened doors , used her connections to help budding scholars, introduced them to publishers, in short a real mentor and role model. She will be sorely missed.

December 16, 2008


87.  David Chaudoir says

Very sad for the field of anthropology and Middle East Studies. BJ Fernea did so much for so many, and is truly a legendary person. The lineage of people influenced and mentored by her is deep, and continues on to this very day. How missed her voice will be.

December 16, 2008


88.  Sherifa Zuhur says

Condolences to the Fernea family and may God bless BJ. It was actually one of BJ’s films – Veiled Revolution – that made me take my dissertation and book, meant really to be a study of the Ikhwan, into the direction that I did.
I met BJ first at the Baltimore MESA and was rather terrified by her. Our small AMEWS group was disagreeing over whehter or not to support childcare – but she was exceedingly pleasant to me when I met her somewhat later with Lenny Binder at a lunch at UCLA.
Her book on the Family in the Middle East, and the volume on Children, were exceedingly useful to me as a teacher with mutidisciplinary interests. I felt a little additional connection with her about Egypt, and its strange echos in the southwest and Texas, and when I finally was able to visit Morocco where BJ’s very interesting discussions about revisiting the interlocuters that we connect with over the years made so much sense to me.

December 16, 2008


89.  Allison Hodgkins UT 95 says

It is fitting I learned of BJ’s passing at a conference in Alexandria from2 colleauges from Morocco…BJ’s experience embraced the whole of the Arab world. I am one of the countless women she mentored while in graduate studies at UT. Her patience with impeteus students, unaware of their own lack of experience is an example I struggle to keep with my own students in Jordan. She has left her mark on countless and her legacy in the field will endure.

December 17, 2008


90.  Kathy Sullivan says

BJ was a Board Member of AMIDEAST, where I was working with Arab students and developing materials for their American host institutions, 30 years ago. She gave so generously of her time and was such a wonderful mentor— full of plain good sense as well as her genuine affection for and deep understanding of people in this region. She welcomed everyone to the task of improving understanding between Americans and peoples of the MENA. There was no stuffiness about her.–just lots of energy and practical approaches to making things happen. We kept in touch over the years as my husband and I moved to Cairo and Amman. It was a great pleasure to renew our friendship during her and Bob’s visits to Jordan over the past 15 years. As they overcame accidents and illness, their mythic stature increased. I guess we believe such elders must be immortal – and they are, through their children, students, colleagues and friends all around the world. Dear BJ – I will miss you, ya sheikha!

December 17, 2008


91.  Janice Crongeyer says

I never had the pleasure of meeting Proffessor Fernea. I was just introduced to her work this past semester in an anthropology class, but it opened my eyes to so many things. The enigma of the middle east and its people was so beautifully portrayed in her works. She engaged me intellectually and I am so grateful she touched my life in that small way. My deepest condolences to her family and friends.

December 17, 2008


92.  Jane Hathaway says

I learned of B.J.’s death only on Dec. 15. I really can’t believe she’s gone. She was always such a fixture at UT’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, where I met her many years ago, when I was a teen-aged undergraduate. She was always unfailingly kind and generous to me. I remember her at a CMES reception for some important visiting speaker during those days. Rather than ignoring me, she introduced me to the speaker as “one of our better students.” This was typical of her down-to-earth personality; she was never overawed by rank or hierarchy.

My deepest condolences to her family. Her contributions to the field and her personal warmth and generosity will always be remembered.

December 19, 2008


93.  Michael C. Dunn says

While I can’t claim to have known BJ well, we crossed paths many times during our careers. As a young graduate student I first read her books; I think I first met her in Egypt sometime in the 70s or early 80s, or perhaps in the US at MESA or other conferences. We had many friends in common though never knew each other all that well. After I became Editor of THe Middle East Journal in 1998 I published a keynote speech she had given to the Middle East Institute, and we worked together, by phone and E-mail, to edit it. She played a pioneering and important role in our field, and though I didnt know her well, I’m glad I knew her to the degree I did.

Michael Collins Dunn
Middle East Journal

December 24, 2008


94.  Anne R. Johnson says

I too am learning late about the loss of such an inspriational friend. BJ was both a wonderful teacher and mentor for me as I worked at the Center for Middle East Studies in the mid 1980s. She helped inspire a love for the Arab world that has never faded. Her visits when I was working on development projects in Egypt and Jerusalem in the 90s were cherished times, and she will be sorely missed. Fortunately her books help keep her memory alive and vivid and will be an important legacy for generations of students.

January 1, 2009


95.  Naella Masud says

I never met Professor Fernea but was introduced to her literary works while take a course on the Middle East back in 1986. Through her books, so beautifully written, I came to appreciate and value what she had experienced during her stay in the Arab world in a time that was so different. For that I am grateful to have had her part of my life. My condolences to the family.

January 7, 2009


96.  Jeffrey Boyce says

Though I only knew her through her writing, Professor Fernea was a very special woman. I came across Street in Marrakesh while studying Morocco, my wife’s home country. She gentle spirit shone through. My condolences to her family.

February 17, 2009


97.  Carolyn M. Appleton, CFRE says

I was exceedingly fortunate to study with Dr. Fernea in the mid-1970s, and I can say without a doubt that she changed my life. I did eventually major in Middle Eastern Studies for my B.A., and I suspect that if I had not had her as a mentor (she engaged me so completely in my studies), that I would not have succeeded half as well. I am eternally grateful to Dr. Elizabeth Ferna. – Carolyn M. Appleton, CFRE

February 28, 2009


98.  Sarah Lehmann says

I too, did not know Mrs. Fernea personally, but I was emotionally and academically touched by her ethnography Guests of the Sheik. Reading it for the first time in 1994, I found myself continually returning to it while exploring women’s issues in the Middle East. In 2004, I finally did enroll in a graduate program much to the chagrin of my husband, who was established in a career and fearful of travel in the Middle East. Last Valentine’s Day I presented him with a copy of Guests, and I believe it saved our marriage. Her work has touched my in ways I never thought possible. My condolences to her family.

March 2, 2009


99.  April Hinds says

It is because of this incredible woman that a spark was ignited in me to study the Mddle East. “Guests of The Sheik” is what led me to minor in Middle Eastern Studies (my Univ. did not offer an official degree in the subject). I read this book a few months before 9/11 and it allowed me to approach this tragic event with an educated and informed mind. While I have read almost everything else she has written or edited, this book has a very special place in my heart. Her courage and intelligence on first journey to Iraq inspired me so much, it’s hard to find the right words to express it. When people ask me why I studied and obtained a degree having to do with w/ Middle Eastern studies, my response is, “I read an incredible book by an amazing woman.” My world is a little sadder knowing that she is gone. My sincerest and most heartfelt condolences to her amazing family.

March 5, 2009



I was very saddened to hear of BJ’s death. She was on the Editorial Board of The Maghreb Review, and was always a great supporter and the last I saw her was at the 50th anniversary of AMIDEAST in Marrakech. She will be greatly missed.

Mohamed Ben-Madani.

April 7, 2009


101.  Christine Gish Zomorodian says

Being a tad out of touch these days, I learned about BJ’s passing today. As an undergraduate at CMES in the early 80’s, she was a key influence in my development as a student and, most importantly, as a thinker.
She always pushed me to the next level of my abilities and taught me to think through my writing. As a recovering orphan of the sixties radical world, she challenged my jaded perspective and showed me how look at feminism and women’s politics from a truly new place.
At the pinnacle of my academic prowess (won for Best in Persian), I made some supercillious, self-effacing remark. She replied with: “Just take the complement like a woman! We wouldn’t have given it to you, if we didn’t think you deserved it!”
Even though I went into an entirely different field than MES, I still think of her often and remember many of her wise counsel and sometimes pithy comments. BJ will truly live on in the hearts and minds of so many.

May 7, 2009


102.  Beth Clarkson Moore says

I just read “Buests of the Sheik” and wondered what became of all the families since Hussain and then the war. I looked up BJ and found she has died, so sad. Did she share with friends/family what became of her many friends in Iraq?

February 18, 2010


103.  Weam Namou says

I was born in Baghdad, Iraq and came to America at age nine. Up until I read “Guests of the Sheik” I’d never experienced a western author tell a story of Iraqis (or other Arabs/Middle Easterens) in such a sensitive and loving manner. I appreciated that she’d had enough heart, vision and respect to see the beauty of Iraq, its people and culture.

I found out of her death today, when I tried to look up her contact information and email her an article I’d written in response to in response to some unkind remarks regarding the Iraqi elections (and Middle Easterners in general) in the U.S.

I’d contacted her before and she was a great person to communicate with – kind and very approachable. I’d hoped that I’d one day meet her in person. Unfortunately, I did not have that chance. I didn’t even realize that so many years have passed…

May she rest in peace.

March 29, 2010


104.  Dorothy Mack says

I just finished reading GUESTS of the SHEIK, and hopefully looked up Elizabeth Warnock Fernea on Facebook. Was SO disappointed to discover that she had passed away 2 years ago, so I do not have a chance to tell her how much I enjoyed her book. On the other hand, I am pleased to learn that she lived a long life, has children and grandchildren, and has left many writings and films that are surely rich. I too lived among Arabic women. My experience was differnt from hers in that it was in Tunisia 1969 – 1975. My Arabic women friends did not wear a veil, and were very “modern” in many ways. However, they still had the wonderful spirit that “B.J.” discovered in the Iraqi women. My condolences to “Bob” (I feel like I know you, from the book), and the rest of the family. You certainly have reason to be very proud of B.J.’s – and your own – rich “pioneering” work! I plan to read more of her books, and hopefully see some of her films.
Thank you for your lives. Dorothy Mack, Indianapolis IN.

June 29, 2010


105.  jalal arabo says

How sad! Such a remarkable author and caring human being! After reading “guests of the Sheik”, i became mesmerized with her humanity and generous spirit. I traced her to Ut and talked to her over the phone and profusely thanked her for her sensitive portrayal of her Iraqi friends in Alnahra. She was extremely gracious and polite.
I ended up reading all the books she wrote or edited and i feel priviledged to have been her companion thgrough her fascinating books. What a great loss!

July 7, 2010


106.  Lisa Estus says

I took a class from Professor Elizabeth Fernea in 1999 called Middle Eastern Feminisms. It was a spontaneous decision born of not being able to get the fiction writing class I needed, but how grateful I am for the stroke of fate. During the class, Prof. Fernea influenced me to permanently change how I approached the world and peoples I once imagined were different from me. She modeled bravery, intellectual rigor, and compassion. I have thought about her so often over the years. I am sorry to learn she is gone from us, but acutely aware of how much of her lives on.

July 25, 2010


107.  Md. Mahmudul Hasan says

I first came to know BJ during my PhD years in the early 2000s, mainly through her In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman’s Global Journey (Doubleday, 1998). She represents women in Muslim society without the usual prism of prejudice and stereotype. Her death shocks me, as I am aware of the unfortunate lack of scholars like her.

November 7, 2010


108.  Fawzia Braine says

Dear Family members of Late Professor Elizabeth Fernea

It is with deep regret that I read about Professor Fernea’s passing away.
I had the privilege of being in her class in 1987, when I was an undegraduate student at U.T. Austin. My memories still go back to the days in her class when a young student challenged her, and her reaction was a tender smile and listening to him with such grace and patience.
This helps me when I face my class today teaching at a University in Hong Kong and to know how much we can learn from such an eminent and gracious person.
In 1998, I was browsing through the shelves at Chinese University in Hong Kong and came across her book, “Guests of the Sheik” written about her life in Iraq Having taught in the Middle East – Oman, I could relate to what she experienced about the women in the Arab world. I was so excited and wanted to write to her. I wish I had.
Dear Professor Fernea, I wish I had written to her to tell her what a Dear person she was and how she has influenced me in my life. She has been in my thoughts in all these many years and just two days ago I searched for her name in the U.T. website to write to her. It was then I learned that she had passed away. I was very saddened when I read her obituary.
Before it is too late I want to let her family know what impact she has had on my life. I will long remember her. It has been 24 years since she touched my life. Dear Professor Fernea, she truly did care- a precious gem.

May she rest in eternal Peace.

May God bless you all.

January 12, 2011

January 13, 2011


109.  trafik ceza sorgulama says

Your website inculudes usefull information. I added your website to Google Reader and i will follow it when i have time…

May 3, 2011


110.  Esi Bani (previously Esi Dogbe) says

That I only found out today that BJ passed away 2.5 years ago leaves a horrible lump in my throat. Why did I not hear of it when it happened?

BJ supervised my dissertation in 1996, and I couldn’t have had a more nurturing yet intellectually sharp mind to engage me in refining my work. She was more than a mentor. She loved us, her students.

Before becoming my supervisor, BJ made my graduate school life infinitely more enjoyable , not to mention giving me my first summer job on her research project in 1992.

The last time I met her was in 1999 in Morocco at the African Literature Association conference where we had tons of fun laughing between munching delicious Moroccan pastries at a coffee shop.

I regret not having kept touch much over the subsequent decade. I will miss that melting smile of yours BJ. I miss you very much.

Rest in Blissful Peace BJ, Rest My Friend.

June 5, 2011


111.  Karim Masri says

i personally was a student of professor Wornock Fernea at UT Austin in 1984 , she showed the class her documentaries on Egypt titled Price of change and veiled revolution ,she was kind enough to write a letter of recommendation in my name later,and when travelled to visit Morocco in 1985 she asked me to convey one of her books to her Moroccan friend Leila Abouzeid. i always felt that Mrs Fernea was a wonderful American lady with an Arab heart, she was truly the Arab World ambassador to America for she had spent decades introducing Arab and Islamic culture to Americans.I wish she is still with us to witness the ongoing Arab Spring and the transformation of the modern Arab societies .Mrs Fernea will be greatly missed ,may God bless her soul and our sympathies always to the Fernea family.
Karim Masri

February 4, 2013


112.  Karim Masri says

i was a student of professor Warnock Fernea in 1984 ,she was kind enough to write a letter of recommendation in my name,and in 1985 she asked me to convey one of her books to Ms. Leila Abouzeid in Morocco. Truly Mrs. Fernea was the Arab World ambassador to America for she had spent decades introducing Arab and Islamic cultures to Americans. I wish she is still with us to witness the ongoing Arab Spring and the transformation of arab societies.She will be greatly missed,may God bless her soul in eternal peace.
Karim from Amman,Jordan.

February 5, 2013


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