Arts and Sciences Appoints Three to Named Chairs

April 22, 2014

Dean Steven J. Fluharty has announced the appointments of three faculty members to named chairs in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Jamal J. Elias has been appointed Walter H. Annenberg Professor in the Humanities. Elias is a member of the Department of Religious Studies. His research interests and teaching encompass Islamic mystical thought and metaphysics, material and visual culture, Arabic and Persian literature, and popular culture in South Asia and Turkey. He has served as department chair of Religious Studies, as well as South Asia Studies, where he holds a secondary appointment.

Elias has lectured and published extensively on history, religion, literature, and culture in the medieval and modern Islamic world. His two most recent books are Aisha's Cushion: Religious Art, Perception, and Practice in Islam, and On Wings of Diesel: Trucks, Identity, and Culture in Pakistan, which won the American Institute of Pakistan Studies Best Senior Book Prize. He also authored two textbooks on Islam, one of which has been translated into five languages.

Elias is a recipient of major grants and awards from organizations including the American Council of Learned Societies, Penn’s Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and the Council of the American Overseas Research Centers. Last year, as a Guggenheim Memorial Fellow, he pursued a major research project on the history of the Mevlevi Sufi order (sometimes called the Whirling Dervishes) from its inception in the 13th century until the advent of the modern era.

Elias received his undergraduate degree from Stanford University, an M.A. from Penn, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. He has taught at Penn since 2006.

The late Honorable Walter H. Annenberg, W '31, HON '66, and his wife, the late Honorable Leonore Annenberg, HON’85, endowed many chairs in the School of Arts and Sciences and made countless generous contributions to the University. Both were emeritus trustees, and Walter Annenberg received Penn’s Alumni Award of Merit in 1991.

Xu Cheng has been appointed the Janice and Julian Bers Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences. Cheng is a member of the Department of Economics, and her research interests include econometric theory and applied econometrics.

A noted theoretical econometrician, Cheng’s work in econometrics and applied economics is forging new techniques to improve statistical inference in models with potential identification failure.  Her research has been published in leading economics journals such as Econometrica, the Journal of Econometrics, and Econometric Theory.

Cheng is the recipient of the 2012 Irving B. Kravis Award for outstanding undergraduate teaching in Economics.  She also received an honorable mention in the Zellner Thesis Award in Business and Economic Statistics from the American Statistical Association, and the Carl Arvid Anderson Prize from the Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics. 

Cheng received her undergraduate degree in economics at Peking University in Beijing, China; her M.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and her Ph.D. from Yale University. She has taught at Penn since 2009. 

Janice and Julian Bers established this chair in 1972 to recognize assistant professors who demonstrate outstanding promise as teachers and scholars in the social sciences. The late Julian Bers, W’31, received Penn’s Alumni Award of Merit in 1968 and served as a trustee of the University. Janice Smith Bers, ED’39, served as president of her class and on the 50th reunion gift committee.

David L. Eng has been appointed Richard L. Fisher Professor of English. His areas of specialization include American literature, Asian American studies, Asian diaspora, psychoanalysis, critical race theory, queer studies, gender studies, and visual culture.  Eng also teaches in the School’s programs in comparative literature and literary theory and in Asian American studies. 

Eng is author of The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy and Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. He is coeditor with David Kazanjian of Loss: The Politics of Mourning and with Alice Y. Hom of Q&A: Queer in Asian America, winner of a Lambda Literary Award and Association of Asian American Studies Book Award. Eng is currently working on a history of reparations and human rights in Cold War Asia.

At Penn, Eng is a founding convener of the Faculty Working Group on Race and Empire Studies as well as a member of the Faculty Advisory Board of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. He is on the governing council of the American Council of Learned Societies and a member of the editorial boards of Social Text and GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, among others. He is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and a former chair of the Board of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in New York City. 

He is the recipient of research fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and the Mellon Foundation, among others. 

Eng received his undergraduate degree in English from Columbia University and his Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of California at Berkeley. He joined Penn in 2007. 

The late Richard L. Fisher, C’63, G’67, established this chair in 1989 to support a person of outstanding character and ability with a particular interest in English. Prior to joining Fisher Brothers Management Company, he was a teaching fellow and writer at Penn. He served Penn as a trustee and as an overseer in the School of Arts and Sciences.