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Course Descriptions

Courses primarily for:

MENA 200 – Making the Modern Middle East: Culture, Politics, History

This team-taught course offers an interdisciplinary introduction to major issues in the history of the Middle East and North Africa since the nineteenth century, and also an introduction to Middle East studies as field of study. That is, we will seek to understand how the modern Middle East was "made," as well as how something called "the Middle East" emerged as a geopolitical entity and a conceptual category. Among the topics explored are the history of the idea of the "Middle East" and the multiples meanings of "modernity" in that context; the complex relations between the Middle East and the West; the historical formation of Middle East nation-states, polities, ideologies, identities, and economies; and the dynamic struggles unfolding in the region since the 2011 Arab uprisings. The course will consider the making of these structures, events, and relationships from a range of perspectives, including imaginative ones. Course material will encompass literary, cinematic, historical, and social science materials, as well as both primary documents and secondary scholarly sources.

MENA 290 – History of the Modern Middle East, 1789-Present

The course surveys the factors that shaped the political, economic, and social features of the modern Middle East from 1789 to the present. The course begins with a study of traditional (mainly Ottoman) institutions; it then traces the forces which weakened those institutions and examines the efforts of Middle Eastern leaders to resist or encourage change. The second half of the course focuses on the period since World War I. It examines the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the significance of secular ideologies such as Arab nationalism and socialism, the successes and failure of the Nasser regime in Egypt, the rise of Islamism, the Iranian revolution, and the Middle East since the end of the Cold War.

MENA 301-2-20 – Revolutionary Egypt under Nasser and Sadat

This will be a seminar-colloquium focusing on the background of the July, 1952 Revolution and controversies surrounding the course of its development. We shall examine the major issues of the British occupation, the Palace faction and the centrist Wafd Party--in the context of their spiraling confrontation. We shall analyze the background of Gamal Abd al-Nasir (Nasser) and his associates (including Anwar al-Sadat) in order to pose a fundamental question: were these individuals committed to genuine social change or did they remain bourgeois capitalists, psychologically tied to the West, and thus dependent on it? Subsequently, we shall examine Egypt's involvement with the Palestine Problem, dilemmas of economic growth, international alignments, and the 'Cold Peace' with Israel.

MENA 301-3-20 – Islamic Law

Islamic law — the sacred law of Islam grounded in the Qur\'an, the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, and the writings of Muslim scholars and jurists - stretches back nearly 1400 years. This course offers, first, an overview of the origins and evolution of Islamic law from the life of Muhammad to end of the classical era. We then seek, secondly, to understand how colonialism and the modern nation-state affected the conceptualization and implementation of Islamic law in the modern period. To these ends, we look in-depth at two specific areas of law - marriage and divorce, and criminal law — in two specific regions: the Ottoman empire and contemporary Iran. Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) religious studies major concentration. Students must have taken RELIGION 250 or obtain instructor consent in order to register for this course.

MENA 390-3-20 – Porous Borders? Geography, Power and Techniques of Movement

At the advent of increased globalization, some scholars have argued that the movements of capital, commodities and people across nation-states have rendered their borders increasingly more porous. The death of the nation-state and the birth of the multinational corporation heralded this new epoch. Yet, in the epoch of off-shored refugee processing centers and border walls, this assumed porosity of borders begs a reexamination of broader geographies of power and tactics of movement. In this course, we examine the historically and geographically specific constellations of borders and ask: How does the border become an architecture of regulation that extends access to mobility to some and denies it to others? What is a border? Is it the physical line drawn between two states? Who gets to draw these lines? Is a state border a given result of a natural and ethnic contract or the terrain of constant contestation or negotiation in global and international affairs? This course examines these questions by proposing to re-conceptualize border as equally the product of mobile social actors, contraband commodities and fluctuating values as they are of state policies aimed at managing these movements.

MENA 390-3-21 – Popular Culture and Protest in the Middle East

This course will examine the connection between popular culture and politics in the Middle East and North Africa. Popular culture - including films, music, poetry, street art, the internet, and television - has been a critical means for expressing political viewpoints and indeed motivating political action. It has also been used by groups and governments seeking to maintain power and repress populist sentiment. This course will take a careful and critical view of different examples of popular culture from across the region, asking what kind of politics they embody and enable. We will concentrate on what popular culture tells us about social change and hierarchies of power related to nation-states, generations, social class, gender, race/ethnicity, and religion.

MENA 390-3-22 – Politics of the Middle East

This course explores the comparative politics of the Middle East and North Africa. The first half of the course focuses on the historical and institutional context of politics and government. Here we examine the emergence of independent states, the consolidation of regimes, and patterns in the relationship between state, society, and economy. We compare explanations for the endurance of authoritarian regimes, examine the role of Islam in politics, and also look at the Iranian Revolution and Islamic Republic. The second half of the course concentrates on dynamics of mobilization and conflict. Here we explore the Arab uprisings that began in late 2010 and their aftermath, current challenges facing the search for stability and democracy in the region, the Syrian war, and the origins and evolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

MENA 390-4-20 – The Arabian Peninsula since the 18th Century

This course aims at introducing students to major themes in the modern history, politics and so­cieties of the Arabian Peninsula, which is an often neglected but increasingly pivotal region of the Middle East. The first half of the course will concentrate on state formation and the politi­cal, economic and ideological forces that shaped the Peninsula until the British withdrawal. The second half of the course will be more thematic and will address some of the most important challenges that the region has faced since the 1970s. Because of its undeniable regional importance and influence, Saudi Arabia will receive particular attention throughout the quarter, though lectures and readings will cover other emirates of the Gulf as well as Yemen. The course combines lectures and some discussions.

MENA 390-4-21 – Archaeology and Nationalism

Archaeology and nationalism have been closely intertwined at least since the idea of the nation-state emerged following the French Revolution. Archaeology offers nationalist agendas the possibility of filling in national historical records and extending the past far into prehistory. Its results can be displayed in museums, occupy entire sites, and be readily accessible online ?thus potentially reaching many new audiences beyond traditional print media. In turn, nationalism has contributed significantly to the development of archaeology as a modern discipline.

Drawing on new critical approaches and examples selected from a wide geographical range, this course explores the role of archaeology in the creation and elaboration of national identities from the eighteenth century to the present day. Issues include the institutionalization of archaeology; the development of museums and practices of display and interpretation; the creation of archaeological sites as national monuments and tourist destinations; cultural property legislation and repatriation of artifacts; and archaeology and monuments under totalitarian regimes.

MENA 390-6, ENGLISH 313-0-21, COMP LIT 301-0-21, HUM 370-6-21 – Arabian Nights

In this course we will study the collection of stories known in English as The Arabian Nights orThe Thousand and One Nights. While in the contemporary popular imagination the Nights is often reduced to a few well-known stories, this course will take a wider approach to the collection, and study it as the product of an ongoing process of translation, circulation, and exchange. Over the quarter, we will read the earliest of these stories, as well as follow the collection's history from its evolution in Arabic oral and manuscript traditions to its eighteenth- century "discovery" and translation into European languages. While the collection has been called a "book with no author" because of its long history of oral and textual evolution, it could just as easily be called a book of many authors, who include its anonymous Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic originators and transmitters, its French and English translators, and its modern interpreters. The last third of the course will therefore be devoted to the modern "afterlives" of the collection in novels, film, and theater. We will consider how the Nights has been used in these works as a vehicle for deeply-considered investigations into narrative form and also clichéd and colonially-imbued images of the Middle East. Reading and watching these works next to and against the Arabic versions, we will encounter the vast variety of ways that the Nights has been a source of narrative techniques, literary themes, political allegories, and feminist debates across literary traditions. Back to top