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 introduces the incoming MA cohort in Middle Eastern Studies to CMES faculty and their research. Weekly sessions feature MES faculty discussing topics related to their areas of expertise in a small seminar setting. Previous semesters have included discussions of historical and political discourses involving the Middle East; advice on how to navigate the archives; theories on second-language acquisition and pedagogy; forays into Middle Eastern music, art, literature, cinema, and other media; and discussions on sustainability, water, and natural resources in the Middle East.

 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.



MES 386: Reading Arabic Lit

Professor Avigail Noy
This course introduces students to the canons of Arabic literature through readings in translation. Texts range from pre-Islamic poetry in the 6th century to novels in the 20th century, and include the Qur’an, Maqamat, Islamic court literature known as adab, literary criticism, philosophical literature, early modern love poetry, European genres in the modern era, and more. We will discuss to what degree the term “canon” applies to these texts and will consider how the work of early modern orientalists and Islamic revivalists influenced our perception of the canon(s). We will also explore the persistence of certain literary forms, especially classical Arabic poetry, up until the 21st century, with reality shows coming out of the Arab world like “Prince of Poets.” The question of translation will be considered throughout. No knowledge of Arabic or Islam needed.



MES 385: Nationalisms in the Middle East

Professor Kamran Aghaie
This course will provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the history of nationalisms in the Modern Middle East. Students will learn theories, methods and debates associated with nationalism, the particular histories of national and translational manifestations of nationalism, (including Turkish, Iranian, Israeli, and Arab Nationalisms, as well, the nationalisms of minorities in the region, and thematic topics such as race and ethnicity, gender, historiography, and religion. This course will also introduce students to many of the broader debates in the field of Modern Middle Eastern history. Students will read, analyze, and discuss selected titles from a list of influential scholarly books and articles on nationalism in the Middle East and elsewhere. While no specific foreign languages skills are required, readings in primary historical documents will be required as part of each student’s research project (in the original languages, when possible). One of the primary goals of the course is to give students the necessary research, and writing skills, along with the requisite knowledge of the field, to conduct meaningful research in the area of History.



MES 385: Global Iran

Professor Mikiya Koyagi
This graduate course examines modern Iranian history from the Qajar period to the post-revolutionary period, with an emphasis on a body of scholarship that critiques methodological nationalism. Students will read and discuss monographs and selected articles from emerging scholarship in Iranian Studies. Classic works will also be discussed to ensure a better understanding of evolving historiographical trends. This course is organized both chronologically and thematically (e.g. transnationalism, borderlands). The goals of this course are twofold: 1) prepare students to have a comprehensive understanding of modern Iranian history; 2) advance students’ research and writing skills as scholars of modern Iran.



MEL 380C: Akkadian III

Professor Bruce Wells
This course allows students who have completed at least a year of Akkadian to read selected cuneiform texts, usually drawn from the Old Babylonian, Neo-Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian periods. Some texts containing peripheral Akkadian (e.g., from Emar, Nuzi) may be introduced as well. Students will also move into making full use of the standard Assyriological tools in this course.



MEL 380C: Targumic Aramaic

Professor Jonathan Kaplan
Examines Aramaic translations of the Hebrew bible that contain many exegetical deviations from the Hebrew text, and provide a glimpse of Jewish theology at the time of their composition.



MES 386: The Islamic City

Professor Stephennie Mulder
Islam, it has been said, is primarily an urban civilization. Simultaneously a religion and a way of life, Islam was originally founded in a city, and the rich history of its social and intellectual institutions is virtually unthinkable outside the context of the urban environment. Indeed, perhaps no religion has ever been more closely associated with the city (Arabic, al-madina), both literally, and as a mental and spiritual landscape. Or so we are told. What is the Islamic city? Is such a term useful when considering a religion that spanned three continents, countless urban centers, and had gathered under its aegis people of multiple faiths, ethnicities, and races to form the rich multicultural stew of premodern Islamic civilization? Furthermore, despite the urban nature of Islamic society, few of the earliest Islamic cities were founded ex nihilo. To what degree did pre-existing Greek, Roman, and Sasanian city fabrics affect the Islamic cities that grew up in their midst? Did medieval Islam’s complex and sophisticated social and legal institutions influence the development of an ‘archetypal’ Islamic city? If so, how did medieval interlocuters view the ‘ideal’ Islamic city? And in what way was that ideal similar to/different from contemporary European iterations of the medieval city? 
In this seminar we will explore the morphology and sociology of cities in Islamic history, using primary texts and architectural/archaeological data to identify and analyze the factors shaping civic forms and structures. We will examine a variety of individual cities, from fiat cities planned by Caliphal decree to those that developed on top of some of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited urban centers. We will probe how medieval Muslims themselves conceptualized, understood, and represented their cites, both textually and visually. At the same time, we will critically examine the idea of the “Islamic City” as it evolved in the West, from the earliest observations of nineteenth-century Orientalist scholars and Muslim reformers to contemporary academic formulations. From the Medina of the Prophet to the early modern madina, we will ask if the framework of the Islamic City might still be relevant, over 1400 years after the advent of this world-encompassing faith.


MEL 380C: The Bible in Hebrew I-IV

Professor Na'ama Pat-El
The 4-semester sequence of the Bible in Hebrew aims to significantly improve students’ active and passive facility with Hebrew, while introducing them to some major issues in Biblical Studies (e.f., documentary hypothesis, linguistic dating, etc.). Each semester students read a quester of the Bible, practice vocalizing unvocalized texts, translate English sentence to Biblical Hebrew, and read seminal scholarly papers. At the end of the sequence students should be ready to take their Hebrew exams.



MES 386: Modern Arabic Poetry

Professor Levi Thompson
Students in this course read and critically analyze Arabic poetry from the modern period. They will learn how to address Arabic poetry in terms of both its formal structure and its content. On the one hand, we will pay particular attention to formal developments in Arabic poetry during the twentieth century. On the other hand, we will situate the poems we read within the historical and political context of their composition. Secondary readings in poetic criticism will prepare students for serious academic analysis of Arabic poetry and culture in the future.
This semester, the course will be conducted in English and all required readings will be available in English or English translation. Students who know Arabic will likewise have the opportunity to read primary and secondary texts for the course in Arabic in consultation with the instructor.


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

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