Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Recent Course Descriptions

MES: Proseminar in Middle Eastern Studies[1]

Professors Karen Grumberg and Hina Azam
This 1-hour course is intended to introduce the incoming cohort to CMES faculty and their research. Weekly sessions feature MES faculty discussing disciplinary topics of interest in a small, discussion-based setting. Previous sessions have included sessions on the latest historical and political discourses involving the Middle East, advice on how to navigate the archives, theories on second language acquisition and pedagogy, forays into musical culture, discussions on sustainability, water, and natural resources in the Middle East, and visits from former Foreign Diplomats. The Pro Seminar also includes workshops on FLAS application prep, preparing for academic conferences, and tips on how to best tackle writing assignments and reading critically.

 MES 386: Islamic Feminism

Professor Hina Azam
Islam and feminism are often considered to be contradictory in their essences and objectives. Nevertheless, we now find more than a century of writing by Muslim women (and men) who draw their inspiration from their religion, and who seek to reconcile Islam’s scriptures and traditions with principles of gender equality and justice. This course explores the idea of Islamic feminism, and surveys its history and key writings. Students will be introduced to some of the practices, doctrines, and texts of Islam that have been considered most problematic from a women/gender perspective, and will read and discuss the ideas of several critical figures from the 20th and 21st centuries. Throughout the course, students will be encouraged to reflect on the idea of, and varying definitions of, “Islamic feminism,” as well as to develop their own definitions of the term.


MES 385: The Ideas of the East

Professor Mikiya Koyagi
Geocultural categories such as the West, the East, Asia, and their subcategories such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and East Asia have gained political relevance only in the last two hundred years. This graduate seminar examines the significance of the transnational movement of people, ideas, and goods in the process of constructing these categories. In particular, instead of studying European/Western construction of Asia/the East as a course on Orientalism would do, this course pays attention to the engagement of various peoples of Asia/the East in constructing the ideas of Asia/the East in the contexts of imperialism, nationalism, and decolonization. These peoples include the Japanese, the Chinese, Indonesians, Indians, Iranians, Arabs, Turks, and many more. Specific topics through which we study construction of Asia/the East include revolutionary politics, religious discourse, feminism, sports, film, and food. In short, this course is concerned with how regions were produced through global interactions.



MES 386: The Arabic Humanities

Professor Avigail Noy
In this graduate seminar we dive into the rich world of pre-modern Islamic humanities, exploring the traditions that formed the culture of an educated Muslim (almost-always) man. Students will familiarize themselves with Arabic writings ranging from linguistics and logic to literature, history, poetic criticism and adab – a category that defies modern classification but includes discussions of poetry, language and theology. Texts include Sibawayh, Jahiz, Tawhidi, Ibn Rashiq, Farabi, Avicenna, Jurjani, Ibn Khaldun, and more. Prerequisite: three years of Arabic at the university level (two years with instructor’s permission).


MES 384: U.S. National Security Policy Changes in the Middle East

Professor Bianca Adair
The course is designed for graduate students from the LBJ School and the Middle East Studies Program to engage in readings, discussions, and projects to understand the complexity of U.S. national security policy in the Middle East. U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, and Iran will be examined to underscore the centrifugal and centripetal forces at play with any decision the U.S. makes in the region that impacts any of these countries. The goal of this course is to have students use their cultural and linguistic understanding to navigate the abstruseness of U.S. policy accomplished by students constructing a team white paper on a transnational policy issue linked to U.S. security concerns that impacts all four Middle Eastern countries to highlight the persistent trade-offs required for each policy decision. The transnational subjects that will be addressed are as follows: cybersecurity, counterproliferation, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and traditional military/geopolitical concerns for regional stability (such as population migration) and energy security.


MEL 380C: Akkadian

Professor Bruce Wells
This course is a continuation of the first semester of Akkadian. As such, it will continue to train the student in the basic grammar, morphology, and syntax of Akkadian, the language used in ancient Babylonia and Assyria. More time will be directed this semester toward learning and understanding the system of cuneiform signs utilized by the Akkadian language. Since Huehnergard’s grammar will be the focus of the course, the student will concentrate on the grammar and script of the Old Babylonian period. Students will be exposed to the Neo-Assyrian script and to other dialects of Akkadian, but they will be held responsible only for learning Old Babylonian. Other objectives of the course include understanding the use of Sumerian logograms in the Akkadian language, an introduction to the research tools used in the field of Assyriology, and direct exposure to various kinds of extant Akkadian literature. The latter goal will be accomplished by reading texts such as contracts, court records, letters, omens, and selections from the Code of Hammurabi.


MEL 383D: Exegetical Seminar

Professor Jonathan Kaplan
This seminar involves a close examination of the biblical idea of Jubilee as expressed in Leviticus and other biblical and ancient Hebrew texts. Students will employ a wide range of methods in our study of this concept including, but not limited to, history, philology, literary theory, poetics, history of interpretation, and linguistics. Students with need at least two years of classical Hebrew and permission of the instructor to enroll in this course.



MES 384: Arab Monarchies

Professor Zoltan Barany
In this graduate seminar we will try to answer the fundamental question of how and why the monarchial form of government survived to the modern age. Just as importantly, in the context of the Middle east, why have Arab monarchies weathered the challenges thrown at them by the Arab Spring upheavals with relative ease in sharp contrast with the republics around them (Egypt, Libya, Syria)? To what extent have the riches derived from hydrocarbons helped these monarchies survive? And what is the secret of Jordan and Morocco, relatively poor kingdoms, that have allowed them to maintain their rule? We will begin with a brief look at the general historical evolution of monarchies around the world from the Middle Ages to the present. We will then turn our focus onto the eight contemporary Arab monarchies. We will analyze the advantages and drawbacks of this kind of government both in the context of democracy vs. authoritarianism as well as in terms of policy implementation, nation-building, state-building, state effectiveness, stability, and security.


MES 385: Middle East: Cops and Criminals

Professor Kamran Aghaie
This course will consist of two equal components, a research/writing workshop, and a reading seminar. Throughout the semester, approximately half of each course session will be spent on each of these two aspects of the course. By “workshopping” their research projects, students will learn how to carry out the different stages of a research project. 1) the evidentiary stage-collecting, processing and analyzing primary evidence, 2) conceptually formulating the project-culminating in a detailed prospectus, 3) presenting their research in a conference-style presentation, 4) writing the actual research paper, and 5) discussing, commenting on, and editing each other’s work in the stages listed above. The second component of the course will consist of reading and discussing scholarship on crime and criminals, as well as police and law enforcement across the Middle East. Students will learn how crime and law enforcement have evolved over the past few centuries in the Modern Middle East.


MES 385: Strategy and Decision-Making in Global Policy

Professor Jeremi Suri
This course will examine how leaders formulate a coherent and effective strategy for policymaking in a complex and unpredictable global environment. Readings and discussions will focus on planning, organization, persuasion, and adaptation to changing international pressures. The course will focus on case-studies in leadership, as well as broader studies of global change in the modern world. Students should gain a greater appreciation for what it means to be an effective strategist, policy-maker, and agenda-setter. They should also acquire a certain humility about the difficulties involved with fulfilling these often inhuman tasks. Harvey Whitehouse, Edward Said, David Chidester, and Richard King.

MES 386: Space and Place in Literature

Professor Karen Grumberg
What does the representation of space and place in literature and other cultural products contribute to our understanding of the social and cultural dynamics of the past century? We hear much about territory and airspace, cartography and border, nation and colony. We hear far less about spaces of human existence and experience: places as ordinary as a house, a terrace, or a garden, or as complex as major cities, the poetics of which dominated earlier theoretical scholarship on place. Nor do we hear much about how sites such as borders and security zones are themselves spaces of social experience and practice. This course will explore the poetics of social and experiential space as expressed in literature and film from the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. We will examine these fictional texts from a diverse interdisciplinary array of theoretical perspectives on space and place, which consider the meanings of space as a place, as a condition, as a construct, and as a practice.

MES 386: What is Arabic Literature

Professor Avigail Noy
For nearly 1500 years Arabic literature boasted one of the most celebrated masterpieces in world literature, but when we think of Arabic literature today it is typically the Western-inspired conventions that come to mind (novels, short stories). This graduate seminar explores the major features, genres, themes and techniques of pre-modern Arabic literature and the degree to which they persisted (or not) into the modern era. The purpose of the course is to examine the medieval foundations of Arabic literature and to confront our understanding of the ‘literary’ with pre-modern standards and tastes. In addition to readings of Arabic literary works students will explore the native tradition’s own understanding of concepts such as poetry, fiction, metaphor and narrative. Comparisons will be made throughout to other literary practices and theories (Western and non-Western), starting with Aristotle’s Poetics. Readings will be in English translation.


MES 386: Theory and Method in the Study of Religion

Professor Azfar Moin
This seminar introduces graduate students to the field by considering the history of theories and methods in the study of religion. We concentrate on three fundamental questions: 1) How have scholars defined “religion”?; 2) How have they studied it?; and 3) How have they narrated the field’s history? Focusing on the period between the 1870s and the 1970s, especially the decades before and after the turn of the twentieth century, we read “classic” texts and consider multiple approaches—anthropological, psychological, historical, phenomenological, geographical, and sociological. We also identify some lineages in the study of religion that have been obscured in most of the histories. Considering more recent trajectories and issues in the study of religion since the 1970s, we end by looking at a few works on gender studies, cognitive science, spatial analysis, poststructuralism, and postcolonial theory.


[1] Required of all MA students during their first semester of study.

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