Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies

Classes from disciplines such as art history, economics, geography, history, politics, religion, and sociology comprise the classes available within this cross-disciplinary path. 

Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies 2022-2023 Courses

Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a deaf person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists in recent years have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular “lifeworlds” in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such worlds in terms that more orthodox social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology entails an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. Phenomenology, put simply, is the study of experience. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, emotions, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try her or his hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific subjective or intersubjective lifeworld through a combination of interviewing, participant observation research, and ethnographic writing.

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Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. His interlocutor, Bernard Stiegler, phrases the main idea behind this statement: “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida’s observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida’s punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and, thus, craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

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Art and Society in the Lands of Islam

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course will explore the architecture and visual arts of societies in which Islam is a strong political, cultural, or social presence. We will follow the history of some of these societies through the development of their arts and architecture, using case studies to explore their diverse artistic languages from the advent of Islam through the contemporary world. We will begin with an introduction to the history surrounding the advent of Islam and the birth of arts and architecture that respond to the needs of the new Islamic community. We will proceed to follow the developments of diverse artistic and architectural languages of expression as Islam spreads to the Mediterranean and to Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America—exploring the ways in which arts can help define and express identities for people living in multiconfessional societies. We will then draw this exploration into the present day, in which global economics, immigration, and politics draw the architecture and artistic attitudes of Islam into the global contemporary discourse. Our work will include introductions to some of the theoretical discourses that have emerged concerning cultural representation and exchange and appropriation in art and architecture. One of our allied goals will be to learn to read works of art and to understand how an artistic expression that resists representation can connect with its audience. And throughout this course, we will ask: Can there be an Islamic art?

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Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political II

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

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Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political I

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation, screenings, and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

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Human Rights

Open, Lecture—Spring

History is replete with rabid pogroms, merciless religious wars, tragic show trials, and even genocide. For as long as people have congregated, they have defined themselves, in part, as against an other—and have persecuted that other. But history has also yielded systems of constraints. So how can we hope to achieve a meaningful understanding of the human experience without examining both the wrongs and the rights? Should the human story be left to so-called realists, who claim that power wins out over ideals every time? Or is there a logic of mutual respect that offers better solutions? This lecture examines the history of international human rights and focuses on the claims that individuals and groups make against states in which they live.

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The Emergence of the Modern Middle East

Open, Seminar—Year

This course provides a broad introduction to the political, social, cultural, and intellectual history of the Middle East from the late 18th century to the present. After a brief conceptual overview, the course draws upon a wide array of primary and secondary sources to illuminate the manifold transformations and processes that have contributed over time to shaping what has meant to be “modern” in this remarkably diverse and dynamic region. Particular attention will be paid to the following themes: the question of modernization and reform within the Ottoman and Qajar empires; the experience of different forms of European imperialism in the Middle East; the integration of the Middle East into the world economy; World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire; state-building in both colonial and postcolonial contexts; transformations in religious thought; changing family norms and gender roles and the genesis of Middle Eastern women’s movements; nationalism; class politics, social movements, and revolution; Zionism and the Israel-Palestine conflict; post-World War II geopolitics and the Cold War in the Middle East; Nasserism and pan-Arabism; the role of US power in the Middle East; the origins and spread of political Islam; the political economy of oil; globalization and neoliberalism; and the impact of various new cultural forms and media on the formation of identities across the region.

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Palestine/Israel and the Politics of History

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course provides a comprehensive introduction to major topics and debates in the historiography of Palestine/Israel from the mid-19th century to the present. The course has two broad goals: first, to delineate significant trends and transformations that defined the political, economic, cultural, intellectual, and social history of that contested land in the modern period; and second, to explore the evolution of—and fraught political debates surrounding—varying interpretations of this history. Themes to be covered include: Ottoman Palestine in the 19th and early 20th centuries; Jewish modernity and the origins and trajectory of Zionism as an ideology and political movement; the emergence and development of Palestinian national identity and nationalism; British colonial rule and the Mandate system; the historiography of partition and its consequences; the construction of Israeli national culture and identity after 1948; the politics of memory among Israelis and Palestinians; regional war and diplomacy; the role of the United States and the global ramifications of struggle in Palestine/Israel; and various aspects of state and society within Israel, with a special focus on the diversity of its ethnic and religious composition. It bears saying that this is not a course about the “Arab-Israeli conflict” or even primarily about “conflict,” as such; rather, this course provides an integrative approach to Palestinian and Israeli history—emphasizing the construction and articulation of multiple visions for forging collective identity within Palestine/Israel, as well as strategies for establishing and asserting control over it. To this end, we will pay particular attention in this course to cultural sources—especially literature and film—as a way to capture the complexity of voices and identities that claim this land as their own.

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First-Year Studies: Reality Check: Homer, Herodotus, and the Invention of History

FYS—Year

Reality is currently under siege. Millions of people today believe, to their core, things that are demonstrably not true. Are we “each entitled to our own reality,” as some would argue? The ancient Greeks thought otherwise. Some 2,500 years ago, the Greeks began to distinguish muthos (origin of the English word “myth”)—an unverified, unverifiable story—from historiē (origin of the English word “history”), an inquiry into the facts for the purpose of making a rational assessment. Simultaneously, the Ancient Greeks began to reject tyranny and introduce democratic political ideals and institutions. Tyrants, however, require obedient subjects unwilling or unable to fact-check even their most preposterous lies. Today’s autocrats and would-be autocrats bombard us with fictions, even contradictory fictions, so as to eradicate the very concept of objective fact. As individuals, we are losing the ability to assess facts on their merits. We’re losing the ability to learn not only from history but even from our own experience. Succumbing to authoritative speakers, many of us prefer virtue-signaling to real-world problem solving. We’re abandoning verbal persuasion in favor of violence and intimidation. Can democratic ideals and institutions survive if we can no longer distinguish myth from history, fiction from fact? What is the value of evidence-based, logical reasoning? How can we learn from fiction without being deceived by it? Reading and discussing Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (c. 8th cent. BCE) and Herodotus’s Histories (c. 440s, 430s BCE), we will examine these and other questions that are as vital to human survival and success today as they were centuries ago. This course is designed for students who welcome open-minded critical inquiry and are eager to read texts that are challenging both intellectually and emotionally. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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International Perspectives on Psychology

Open, Lecture—Fall

What does psychology look like outside of the United States? How does psychology operate across multiple cultures? In this course, we will attempt to answer these questions as we explore multiple international perspectives of psychology. First, we will begin with an examination of the history of psychology as a field. Next, we will grapple with arguments for and against international psychology. Our course will explore the development of psychology in multiple parts of the world. Our readings will focus on tracing the roots of specific schools of psychology, such as liberation psychology and South African psychology, and examining case studies in India, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the former Soviet Union, and El Salvador. Readings may include perspectives from theorists such as Martin-Baro (liberation psychology), Sunil Bhatia (decolonizing psychology), Frantz Fanon (postcolonial theory and psychology), and Lev Vygotsky (cultural-historical psychology). Lastly, we will explore the role of international organizations and mental health, such as the WHO and the UN. In conference work, students will be encouraged to explore international perspectives of psychology beyond the examples discussed in class. This course is open to students interested in psychology, mental health, international relations, politics, regional studies, and anthropology.

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Perspectives on 9/11: Religion, Politics, and Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall

It has now been more than 20 years since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. How have perceptions changed about the events that occurred that day? Shortly after the attacks, then-President George W. Bush insisted that Islam was not to blame and, instead, framed the battle ahead as the “War on Terror.” But what about those who insisted that what had happened was an almost inevitable result of the “clash of civilizations”? How did Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda frame the narrative and their part in it? What kinds of arguments were presented to justify the attack and the US military interventions that followed? In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, what has been called the “Islamophobia industry” developed and flourished, taking full advantage of new forms of media. What role has mainstream and alternative media played in how Muslims have been portrayed and the discrimination that they have faced in the years since 9/11? Ten years after the attacks, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum opened in New York City. How have this site and other memorials shaped the collective memory of the events, as well as the curriculum being taught to a generation born after 2001? In addition to the architects of these memorials, artists, writers, and filmmakers have explored the many religious, political, and social dimensions of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. How have these works of imagination expanded the ways in which people have made sense of, and found meaning in, painful events? While this seminar is being offered as a religion course at the College, the approach is an interdisciplinary one that draws upon readings and other materials from a variety of academic, artistic, and literary fields.

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Technology and Social Identity

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will explore the nature of agency—or the motivation behind and responsibility for action—and the role of technology in shaping personal social identity. We begin by discussing how to treat nonhumans as actors in their own right before exploring key concepts that include Donna Haraway’s cyborg and Bruno Latour’s hybrid agent—concepts that allow us to consider how humans utilize nonhumans in their environment (assistive technologies for people with disabilities, animals, clothing, etc.) to enact social identity and become inseparable from them. This lays a foundation for us to explore how social identities like race, gender, ability, and socioeconomic status are made and unmade in interactions with technology. We will consider how identities are shaped by institutions, embodied in individuals, and conceived as lifelong projects. In past conference projects, students have explored deaf identity and cochlear implants, responsible pet ownership and leashes, bicycles in urban space, and hacking culture on video-game servers.

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First-Year Studies: W/E: The Making of the Complete Lover, West/East

FYS—Year

The known universe has one complete lover, and that is the greatest poet. —Walt Whitman

This class will aim to provide a writer’s introduction to poetry, as seen through the cultural lenses of what’s been called the “East” and what’s been called the “West.” While keeping faith with the sacred jazz ethic of improvisation, we’re likely to spend our class time: (a) discussing questions like what is a poem, what is taste, what is the “East,” and what is the “West,” and how have those constructs influenced writers and readers; (b) getting to know each other as readers and writers and working collaboratively; and (c) doing writing exercises as practicum. In weekly conferences, we’ll discuss college and look at your drafts—mostly of poems, along with some critical writing about our shared texts—particularly Edward Said’s Orientalism and Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return. Along the way, I’ll ask you to participate in readings at each term’s middle and end; compile an anthology and a chapbook; work with a partner and introduce his/her work; and contribute to a collective zuihitsu, a Japanese form combining what's been called “poetry” and what‘s been called “prose.” (We’ll be reading two versions of Narrow Road to the Interior: Basho’s from the 17th century and Kimiko Hahn’s from 2006.) The only prerequisites are a passion for reading that equals your passion for writing, the courage to give up spectatorhood for active participation, and a willingness to undertake whatever might be necessary to read and write and think better on our last day of class than on our first.

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