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 2021-2022 Courses

Ethnographic Research and Writing

Advanced, Seminar—Year

Javanese shadow theatre, Bedouin love poems, and American community life are but a few of the cultural realities that anthropologists have effectively studied and written about. This is no easy task, given the substantial difficulties involved in understanding and portraying the concerns, activities, and lifeworlds other than one’s own. Despite those challenges, ethnographic research is generally considered one of the best ways to form a nuanced and contextually rich understanding of a particular social world. To gain an informed sense of the methods, challenges, and benefits of just such an approach, students in this course will try their hands at ethnographic research and writing. In the fall semester, each student will be asked to undertake an ethnographic research project in order to investigate the features of a specific social world, such as a homeless shelter, a religious festival, or a neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the spring, she or he will craft a fully realized piece of ethnographic writing that conveys something of the features and dynamics of that world in lively, accurate, and comprehensive terms. Along the way, and with the help of anthropological writings that are either exceptional or experimental in nature, we will collectively think through some of the most important features of ethnographic projects, such as interviewing others, the use of fieldnotes, the interlacing of theory and data, the role of dialogue and the author’s voice in ethnographic prose, and the ethnical and political responsibilities that come with any attempt to understand and portray the lives of others.

Faculty

East vs. West: Europe, the Mediterranean, and Western Asia From Antiquity to the Modern Age

Open, Lecture—Year

Historically, competition or conflict between the European or Mediterranean West and the regions of the Middle East has been seen as a struggle between Christian and Muslim worlds with roots in the era of the Crusades, whose precedent and implications reach into the present time. While this course will focus extensively on the medieval period, it seeks to do so by situating the relations between Christian Europe and the Muslim world within a larger context as the result of geopolitical patterns that long antedated the emergence of Christianity or Islam. In the fall, the course will begin with the Greek invasion of the Near East under Alexander as a war of retribution for the Persian invasion of Greece more than a century earlier. We will consider how the political structure and culture of the multiethnic Hellenistic Greek kingdoms emerged from the wreckage of the Persian Empire and how Rome subsequently built on Hellenistic Greek experience and conflict with the Near East in establishing its empire. We will examine the emergence of Christianity as an example of a Roman or Western response to an originally Eastern religion and, conversely, the emergence of the Islamic faith and its new empire as an Eastern challenge to the Christianized Roman Empire of Late Antiquity. In the spring, we will see how this approach affords a very different view of the Crusades and the battle for the Holy Land as the outgrowth of longstanding cultural and political interactions or competitions that transcend religious faith and doctrine. The course will look at Christian and Muslim cultural relations in Spain and then close by examining the rise of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which originated as a Muslim regime in Eastern Europe and became a major power in Asia only after it had conquered the remaining symbol of the old Christian Roman Empire, Constantinople, in 1453. We will consider primary historical and literary sources, as well as major artistic monuments.

Faculty

Global Modernism, Internationalism, and the Cold War: 1930s, 1960s, 1990s

Open, Lecture—Year

This course is an introduction to diverse trajectories of modern and contemporary art from contexts that include Russia, Mexico, Iran, China, Japan, Argentina, India, Nigeria, Brazil, Ethiopia, Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan, as well as Europe and North America. The course ties these trajectories together via the theme of “internationalism” and its shifting geopolitical stakes over the course of the 20th century. The course follows the creation of modern internationalism in institutions like the League of Nations, the United Nations, UNESCO, and the Non-Aligned Movement; to a shift from diplomatic internationalism to economic “developmentalism” and “globalization” led by institutions like the World Bank and the IMF; and related cultural internationalisms promoted by MoMA, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Venice and São Paulo Biennales, and even the Stalinist state and Chinese Communist Party. Lectures will examine topics like Mexican muralism and Rockefeller internationalism; Négritude and its influence on African postcolonial modernisms; the infamous “weaponization” of abstract expressionism during the Cold War; debates on socialist realism in the Second and Third Worlds; the arrival of postcolonial diasporas to London and Paris and, relatedly, developments in “calligraphic modernism” spanning from North Africa to East Asia; and finally the proliferation of post-medium and new media strategies around the world toward the end of the century. Taking a chronological journey through global modern and contemporary art, the course focuses on three key decades to examine how artists navigated the shifting pressures and opportunities of internationalism throughout the 20th century. We will ask: How did modern artists think about national identity and nationalism in the colonial and postcolonial periods? What were the stakes of abstraction versus realism in different Cold War contexts? Can modernism exist in a totalitarian state? How have “First World” ideologies informed how modernist history has been written in the past? How are global modernists expanding the canon today? And on whose terms? While the course will include canonical readings on modern and contemporary art from the West, we will also read work by thinkers including Hannah Arendt and Rabindranath Tagore on nationalism; Mark Mazower and Vijay Prashad on the shifting politics of internationalism; Geeta Kapur and Ferreira Gullar on postcolonial avant-gardes; and primary documents, including UNESCO conference proceedings and artist manifestoes. The course lays a particular focus on recent work on global modernism by scholars that include Chika Okeke-Agulu, Iftikhar Dadi, Kellie Jones, Joan Kee, Ana María Reyes, and Reiko Tomii. These readings will illustrate current debates and shifts in the field, opening onto questions of art historical method and ways of looking, especially as they pertain to contested and formerly marginalized domains of art history. Writing assignments will focus on New York-area collections; the course will include a guided field trip to MoMA.

Faculty

Intermediate French I (Section I): Contemporary French and Francophone Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will offer a systematic review of the most fundamental aspects of French grammar. The emphasis of the class will be on developing oral proficiency by working on specific grammatical structures and conjugations, as well as idiomatic expressions. We will also work on writing skills through in-class short essays and exercises with the primary goal of strengthening students’ grammatical agility. We will meet twice a week for two hours. We will use recent and contemporary French and francophone popular culture (songs, film, cartoons, fashion, etc.) as a gateway to explore underlying trends and tensions that have been at work in the francophone world since the 1960s. Some of the questions that we will discuss this semester include colonization and its aftermath in France and Belgium, as well as in several sub-Saharan African countries; the complex issue of race and slavery as part of France’s past in the Caribbean; the presence of Islam in France as a result of immigration from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia; the history of feminism and gender; and the question of ecology and climate change. Each week will be organized around a song, a film, and a text that echo each other around a common theme. We will memorize lyrics and write and act dialogues, as well as short essays. This course will be an excellent preparation for the spring 2022 Intermediate I course, which will focus on reading and writing more elaborate texts. In addition to conferences, a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged. The Intermediate French I and II courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

Faculty

Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open, Lecture—Year

Where does the food that we eat come from? Why do some people have enough food to eat and others do not? Are there too many people for the world to feed? Who controls the world’s food? Will global food prices continue their recent rapid rise? And if so, what will be the consequences? What are the environmental impacts of our food production systems? How do answers to these questions differ by place or by the person asking the question? How have the questions changed over time? This course will explore the following fundamental issue: the relationship between development and the environment, focusing in particular on agriculture and the production and consumption of food. The questions above often hinge on the contentious debate concerning population, natural resources, and the environment. Thus, we will begin by critically assessing the fundamental ideological positions and philosophical paradigms of “modernization,” as well as the critical counterpoints that lie at the heart of this debate. Within this context of competing sets of philosophical assumptions concerning the population-resource debate, we will investigate the concept of “poverty” and the making of the “Third World”; access to food, hunger, grain production and food aid, agricultural productivity (the Green and Gene revolutions), biofuels, the role of transnational corporations (TNCs), the international division of labor, migration, globalization and global commodity chains, and the different strategies adopted by nation states to “develop” natural resources and agricultural production. Through a historical investigation of environmental change and the biogeography of plant domestication and dispersal, we will look at the creation of indigenous, subsistence, peasant, plantation, collective, and commercial forms of agriculture. We will analyze the physical environment and ecology that help shape, but rarely determine, the organization of resource use and agriculture. Rather, through the dialectical rise of various political-economic systems—such as feudalism, slavery, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism, and socialism—we will study how humans have transformed the world’s environments. We will follow with studies of specific issues: technological change in food production; commercialization and industrialization of agriculture and the decline of the family farm; food and public health, culture, and family; land grabbing and food security; the role of markets and transnational corporations in transforming the environment; and the global environmental changes stemming from modern agriculture, dams, deforestation, grassland destruction, desertification, biodiversity loss, and the interrelationship with climate change. Case studies of particular regions and issues will be drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The final part of the course examines the restructuring of the global economy and its relation to emergent international laws and institutions regulating trade, the environment, agriculture, resource extraction treaties, the changing role of the state, and competing conceptualizations of territoriality and control. We will end with discussions of emergent local, regional, and transnational coalitions for food self-reliance and food sovereignty, alternative and community supported agriculture, community-based resource management systems, sustainable development, and grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Films, multimedia materials, and distinguished guest lectures will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm/factory field trip is possible in each semester if funding permits. The lecture participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and hunger,” tentatively planned for the spring. Please mark your calendars when the dates are announced, as attendance for all of the above is required. Attendance and participation are also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Social Science Colloquium Series, which are held approximately once per month. The Web Board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of short essays will be made there, as well as followup commentaries with your colleagues. There will be in-class essays, a midterm quiz, and a final exam each semester. Group conferences will focus on in-depth analysis of certain course topics and will include debates and small-group discussions. You will prepare a poster project each semester on a topic of your choice that is related to the course and which will be presented at the end of each semester in group conference, as well as a potential public session.

Faculty

Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political-economy of which the “Third World” is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial “development” to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political-economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities, as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, urbanization, industrialization, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation-states. We will then examine globalization and its relation to emergent international institutions and their policies; for example, the IMF, World Bank, AIIB, and WTO. We will then turn to contemporary development debates and controversies that increasingly find space in the headlines: widespread land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds, China, and hedge funds; the “global food crisis”; and the perils of climate change, as well as the potential of ”a new green deal.” Throughout the course, our investigations of international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class: the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and North America. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage, substantive research project. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, you will be encouraged to do primary research over fall study days. Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

Faculty

The Rise of the New Right in the United States

Open, Seminar—Spring

Why this course and speaker series/community conversations now? The rise of the New Right is a critically important phenomenon of our time, shaping politics, policies, practices, and daily life for everyone. The insurrection at The Capitol on January 6, 2021, is only one egregious expression of long-term ideas and actions by a newly emboldened collective of right-wing ideologues. The violent challenges to the realities of a racially and ethnically diverse America is not a surprise. Nor is the normalization of White Power politics and ideas within mainstream politics and parties. The varied nature of the New Right’s participants—their ideologies, grievances, and goals—requires deep analysis of their historical roots, as well as their contemporary manifestations. The wide range of platforms and spaces for communicating hate, lies, and calls for violence against perceived enemies require their own responses, including the creation of platforms and spaces that offer analysis and alternatives. Seriously engaging the New Right, attempting to offer explanations for its rise, is key to challenging the authoritarian drift in our current political moment and its uncertain evolution and future. To do so requires our attention; it also requires a transdisciplinary approach, something inherent to our college and to geography as a discipline, be it political, economic, cultural, social, urban, historical, or environmental geography. The goal of this new seminar, one that is accompanied by a facilitated speaker series and community conversations, is to build on work in geography and beyond and to engage a wide array of thinkers from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, institutions and organizations. In addition to teaching the course itself, my hope is that it can be a vehicle to engage our broader communities—at the College and in our region, as well as reaching out to our widely dispersed, multigenerational alumni. Pairing the course with a facilitated/moderated speaker series, livestreamed in collaboration with our Development and Alumni offices, offers the chance to bring these classroom conversations and contemporary and pressing course topics, grounded in diverse readings and student engagement, to a much wider audience and multiple communities. In this class, we will seek to understand the origins and rise of the New Right in the United States and elsewhere, as it has taken shape in the latter half of the 20th century to the present. We will seek to identify the origins of the New Right and what defines it, to explore the varied geographies of the movement and its numerous strands, and to identify the constituents of the contemporary right coalition. In addition, we will explore the actors and institutions that have played a role in the expansion of the New Right (e.g., courts, state and local governments, Tea Party, conservative think tanks, lawyers, media platforms, evangelical Christians, militias) and the issues that motivate the movement (e.g., anti-communism, immigration, environment, white supremacy/nationalism, voter suppression, neoliberal economic policies, anti-globalization, free speech). This is a reading-intensive, discussion-oriented large seminar in which we will survey a broad sweep of the recent literature on the New Right. While the class focuses most specifically on the US context, conference papers based on international/comparative case studies are welcome. Students will be required to attend all associated talk and film viewings, write weekly reading memos, engage colleagues in biweekly online essays and conversation, and write a brief final paper that links the themes of the class with their own interests, creative products, research agenda, and/or political engagement. Transdisciplinary collaborative activities across the College and community are encouraged. Film, performance, written commentary, workshops, and other forms of action can provide additional outlets for student engagement.

Faculty

Beginning Greek

Open, Seminar—Year

This course provides an intensive introduction to Ancient Greek grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, with the aim of reading the language as soon as possible. By mid-semester in the fall, students will be reading authentic excerpts of Ancient Greek poetry and prose. Students will also read and discuss English translations of selected works of Plato, Aristophanes, Thucydides, and Ps.-Xenophon. During the spring semester, while continuing to refine their knowledge of Greek grammar and their reading skills, students will read extended selections of Plato’s Apology in the original Greek.

Faculty

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.

Faculty

Nationalism

Open, Large seminar—Fall

This course provides a broad historical and theoretical inquiry into the phenomenon of nationalism—one of the most enduring ideological constructs of modern society. Indeed, the organization of the globe into a world of bordered territorial nation states—each encapsulating a unique social identity—is such a taken-for-granted feature of contemporary geopolitics that it is easy to forget that nations did not exist for most of human history and that nationalism dates back only to around the 1700s. And yet, despite many predictions of its imminent demise at different moments in history—Albert Einstein quipped famously that nationalism was an “infantile disease” that humanity would eventually outgrow—nationalism remains perhaps as powerful an ideological force as ever in the United States, as elsewhere. This course will examine a range of foundational questions about the emergence of nations and nationalism in world history: What is a nation, and how has national identity been cultivated, defined, and debated in different contexts? Why did nationalism emerge when it did? Who does nationalism benefit, and how do different social groups compete for control over national identity and ideology? How and why did nationalism become such a vital feature of anticolonial political movements beginning in the late-19th century? Is nationalism fundamentally a negative force—violent and exclusionary—or is it necessary for forging cohesive social bonds among diverse and far-flung populations? The course will begin with the emergence of nations and nationalism in Western Europe but will then move on to explore its evolution and ensuing spread to all parts of the globe, exploring a number of case studies along the way. The course will conclude with a brief survey of the state of nationalist politics today, with a particular emphasis on Brexit and white nationalism in the United States.

Faculty

Decolonization and the End of Empire

Open, Large seminar—Spring

Among the most salient features of the new international order that was ushered in by the end of World War II and the creation of the United Nations in 1945 was the emergence of an unprecedented global wave of decolonization that would last for roughly three decades. As many leaders of the international community consigned the “age of empire” to the dustbin of history, the world witnessed, in rapid succession, the dissolution of European overseas imperial configurations and the consequent formation of myriad new nation states across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. This seminar provides an in-depth historical inquiry into the global phenomenon of decolonization in the post-World War II era. The course will adopt a comparative and transnational lens, exploring—through a wide range of both secondary and primary sources—the complex historical processes that attended decolonization in the British, French, Italian, Dutch, and Portuguese imperial domains. Particular attention will be paid to the following questions: Why did European imperialism end when it did, and how did the politics of anti-colonial nationalism vary across the different empires? How did nationalist movements and local elites negotiate the end of imperial rule, and what challenges did they face in their attempts to build postcolonial societies? What role did international organizations such as the United Nations play in constructing the new decolonized world order? How did the Cold War impact decolonization? How did decolonization work within nascent frameworks in post-World War II international law, particularly concerning the legal status of postcolonial national citizens as well as migrants? And finally, to what extent has decolonization led to a truly “decolonized” world order? Or, to what extent have older imperial discourses, ideologies, and cultural prejudices persisted into the era of postcolonial independence and self-determination? Conference work for this seminar will take the form of small-group work: Each group will undertake research relating to the experience of decolonization in a different European imperial context (British, French, Italian, Dutch, or Portuguese).

Faculty

Can This Republic Be Saved? Cautionary Evidence From Ancient Rome

Open, Seminar—Year

The democratic republic in the United States was modeled on the Roman Republic, for good and ill, and has lasted just 234 years. Our democratic republic is now under siege, both figuratively and literally, by forces threatening to replace it with a dictatorship or some form of authoritarian populism. The ancient Roman Republic lasted 450 years before imploding into a military dictatorship. The Roman experience shows that the introduction or reintroduction of violence into the political process—even if the aim is social justice—absolutely precludes any possibility of equity or justice. Since the collapse of the Roman Republic, history has shown repeatedly that political violence, if condoned and unchecked, inevitably produces not social justice but the atrocities and devastations of fascism or totalitarianism. This course will examine this and other lessons from ancient Roman literature and history that are vital for us today if we hope to survive and thrive as individuals, as members of various communities, and as a species. We will read (in English translation) and discuss selected works by Catullus, Cicero, Sallust, Appian, Plutarch, Horace, Livy, Ovid, and Cassius Dio.

Faculty

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.

Faculty

Storytelling and Spirituality in Classical Islam

Open, Seminar—Fall

One of the greatest rock songs of all time, “Layla,” was written by Eric Clapton after he read the story of the star-crossed lovers Layla and Majnun. This tale of a Bedouin poet who went mad, after he was cut off from his beloved, circulated widely in Arabic sources for hundreds of years before being expanded into a long narrative poem in Persian by Nizami in the 12th century. By this point in time, telling compelling stories had become a means by which Sufi writers (the mystics of Islam) described their particular vision of being Muslim, which was that of the pitfalls, despairing moments, and ecstasies of the spiritual quest and search for closeness to the divine Beloved. Layla and Majnun were just one of several couples in allegorical stories that were understood as teaching vehicles for disciples on the path. On the opposite end of the plot spectrum, there is Ibn Tufyal’s famous story, Hayy ibn Yaqzan, a mystical-philosophical work in Arabic also written in the 12th century. It describes an abandoned baby growing up on a desert island, raised first by a deer and then by his own devices, as he slowly discovers the nature of the human-divine relationship. Other classical works dispensed with this format of the singular narrative opt, instead, for nesting stories within stories and mixing animal stories with stories about humans. We will look at examples of these literary techniques in translations of Farid ad-Din Attar’s Conference of the Birds and The Thousand and One Nights. What is common to all of the works that we will be reading in this class is the way in which storytelling here is rooted in a deeper dimension that explores the human potential for more refined behavior and ethics, as well as for higher spiritual states.

Faculty

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

Open, Seminar—Fall

It has now been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. How have perceptions changed about the events that occurred that day in 2001? 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 attacks on 9/11, 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 has that 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 those 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, the approach is an interdisciplinary one that draws upon readings and other materials from a variety of academic, artistic, and literary fields.

Faculty

The Qur’an and Its Interpretation

Open, Seminar—Spring

To watch a Muslim kiss the Qur’an is to recognize that this not a “book” in the ordinary sense of the word. There is an art to reciting its verses and an art to its calligraphy. The uncovering of its meanings has been variously understood by Muslims to be a matter of common sense, diligent scholarship, or profound inspiration. In this seminar, we will begin by studying the style and content of the Qur’an. Some of the themes that may be discussed are the nature and function of humans and supernatural beings, free will and determinism, the structure of this and other worlds, God’s attributes of mercy and wrath, gender and family relations, other religions, and the legitimate use of violence. We will also look at the types of literature that developed in response to the Qur’an in texts ranging from the entertaining stories of the prophets, to scholastic theological and philosophical analysis, to poetic mystical insights. Contemporary writings written by Muslims will be included that mine the riches of the classical heritage of Qur’anic exegesis while grappling with the difficulties of dealing with a text that originated in seventh-century Arabia.

Faculty

Sufi Sciences of the Soul

Open, Seminar—Spring

Muslim mystics have left us with a vast body of literature that explains the faculties and capabilities of human beings. These theoretical writings go hand-in-hand with the experiential dimension of Sufi practice, which includes the careful and diligent cultivation of spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical disciplines. The purpose of their path, as they often label their thought and practice, goes beyond that of religious salvation—at least as understood in the usual sense. Their goal might be best described as a desire to attain intimate knowledge of the true nature of reality, as in the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, “Our Lord, show us things as they really are.” Following another saying of the Prophet, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord,” Sufis have insisted that this deeper knowledge can only be accomplished by a greater understanding of oneself, which necessarily involves the deconstruction of any solid or static notions about what is perceived to be the self. According to Sufis, what we think of as ourselves is really a cacophony of forces from within and without that flow through, and interact with, different faculties within us. The spiritual disciplines in which Sufis immerse themselves are intended to destabilize the false self by enabling the practitioner to become more conscious of those forces and faculties. Furthermore, according to Sufis, there is a strong relationship between our level of awareness, our attitudes and behaviors, and the way in which we perceive reality. Changes within us change the reality that seems to be outside of us. Through a series of readings from Sufi figures in the past and present, this course will explore their systematic exposition of the “sciences of the soul.”

Faculty

Bad Neighbors: Sociology of Difference, Diversity, and Cosmopolitanism in the City

Open, Seminar—Fall

The focus of the seminar will be on questions of diversity, difference, and cosmopolitanism as it pertains to urban life in a contemporary American city such as Yonkers or New York City, as well as in urban societies around the world. We will take a sociological look at how urban communities experience, navigate, and transform social structures, relationships, and institutions in their everyday lives, as they deal with problems such as inequality, hate, and exclusion while co-existing with different and diverse populations. We will read books and essays by Arlie Hochschild, Asef Bayat, Yuval Noah Harari, Dina Neyeri, Robert Putnam, and others, as we explore ways in which cities embody particular histories as central while marginalizing others—and how communities and people in their everyday lives resist, alter, and decenter those histories and hierarchies. Through engaged field research, we will try to learn and understand how diverse communities of people work and live together; build and provide for the wider community; and rely on informal and formal opportunities, resources, and networks to make life in the city possible.

Faculty

The Sociology of Sports

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

This is a course about sports as practice, and practice is used here in a multiple sense. As an embodied activity, sporting practice is felt and experienced in and through the body, which is its primary but not sole “habitus”—a term that French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu popularized when elaborating on his notion of “cultural capital.” In this course, taking the sporting body and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (taste, habits, skills, dispositions) as our point of departure, we will examine sports and its habitation of worlds that reach far beyond the individual (body) in both time and space. We will examine sports along multiple axes: as a collective and/or individuated activity; as a source of leisure and recreation; as a source of profitable employment; as a site of identity and nation-building projects; and as a space that engenders transnational mobilities and interconnections, as well as ruptures. In its commoditized contemporary form, sports is, more often than not, controlled by big money and/or the state and is part and parcel of what Debord refers to as the “society of the spectacle,” a site of production, consumption, and entertainment. The complex relationship between sports as experienced through the body and as a set of disciplinary practices will allow us to think through the relation of the individual, the collective, and institutionalized power, linking these to questions of body politics. Taking the internal dynamics and meaning of sports seriously, we will engage sports as a contradictory field—as both a productive space and a space of consumption. Our readings will include scholarly works, sports journalism, films, documentaries, and other primary sources. Possible conference topics include sports and politics; analysis of particular sports events (e.g., the Olympics, women’s basketball, the World Cup); (auto)biographies and/or oral histories of athletes; sports and protest; “fitness,” health, and the body; gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability, and sports; nationalism(s), national “styles,” and sports; and the phenomenology of sports.

Faculty

Lineages of Utopia

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Utopias have existed in human history for centuries. Guided by a critique of the world as constituted, utopias have been vehicles for both imagining and constructing a different socio-spatial order. In this seminar, we will examine the materialization of utopias in physical space and the logic(s) that informed them. Rather than dealing simply with the abstract ideas behind utopian thinking, we will examine a diversity of socio-spatial formations—both as a critique of the present state of existence and as a practice rooted in a radically divergent notion of the future. It is the contention of this course that utopias, rather than being solely imaginary, are deeply historical and informed by existing social conditions. With the objective of analyzing utopias as materialized practices, we will look at different kinds of utopian communities, ranging from millenarian movements, to socialist, anarchist and countercultural experiments, to the Occupy Wall Street movement. We will also examine architectural and aesthetic utopias which, like their more explicitly movement-based counterparts, attempt to visualize and rethink space—which remains an essential utopian preoccupation. Our foray into these various utopian designs is meant to get us to interrogate the impulses undergirding these practices instead of an approach that dwells primarily on their sustainability over time. We will attempt to understand the traces that these various experiments have bequeathed us regarding activism, social transformation, and the potential for a more just world. Participants in this seminar will be encouraged to address our living relationship with utopia by asking how we might, both individually and collectively, work to create, experience, or perform utopia without ascribing a totalizing vision to it. Student projects might take the form of a close examination of specific utopian practices or be based on creative projects and/or fictional utopias frequently encountered in science-fiction novels and film. Particular activist movements—such as Black Lives Matter, LGNTQ+ activism, and feminist movements—can also be seen as ways of visualizing futures that depart from the historical present, out of which such movements emerge and in which they are embedded. As such, these, too, have a vision of the future that is at odds with the present and will provide fertile ground for conference work. Finally, while the course will not specifically address the vexed relationship between utopias and dystopia, an examination of the latter remains yet another possible line of inquiry for student projects.

Faculty