Culture & Ideas GE courses


NELC - Arabic - Hebrew - Persian - Turkish


2220 Introduction to South Asian Studies

A multi-disciplinary introduction to South Asia's geographical, political, cultural, and religious contexts and connections.  [GE culture and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

2241 The Middle East Close-Up: Peoples, Cultures, Societies

Introduction to the culture of the Middle East as lived in its villages, towns, and cities. [GE cultures and ideas course.]

This course provides an ethnographic overview of the "Culture" and cultures of the contemporary Middle East. It is designed to increase student knowledge and awareness about the Middle East in regard to its cultural, social, political and religious institutions. The history of the region is examined as background to developing a more thorough understanding of the contemporary Middle East as represented by its villages, towns, and cities. This is also a course in the comparative study of culture, addressing essential questions in the study of societies located within a single regional context which are informed by different cultural traditions. Films, tapes, slides and other resources will supplement course readings.

2244 Films of the Middle East

Overview of contemporary films from different Middle Eastern countries; how filmmakers of the region view, present, and construct their countries using particular modes of representation. [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

In this course, contemporary films of different Middle Eastern countries will be approached from several perspectives. The course will present films of several countries in the region to give an introductory account of the specific cultures of their production. The emphasis will be on how various national cultures have built popular cultural products that may be representative of their specific cultural locations. In this respect, the course will bring about national, social, cultural, and historical issues and problems pertaining to the region. Film as a form of popular art will be considered as useful for understanding the production of narratives about Middle Eastern lives. Both a narrative and a visual medium, film will be presented as a way of seeing and representing the realities and fictions of these societies. Students will be asked to relate, compare and contrast these films as examples of national projects and cultural products. This introduction to different cinematic experiences in a particular region will consider how the representation and narration of reality in filmic texts are related to its contexts. This course will equip students with a basic knowledge of contemporary Middle Eastern culture. It will give students a chance to understand foreign cultures by presenting examples of how these cultures envision themselves in their films. Film, as a social practice and as a medium for national imagination and representation, will provide students a comparative and critical perspective with which to reconsider their own understanding of film.

3101 Language Evolution and Language Change

A study of how and why languages change and evolve over time, taking into account the linguistic, historical, ideological and cultural factors involved. [GE cultures and ideas course.]

This course is designed to provide the student with a broad perspective on some of the different mechanisms shaping language evolution. The insights of historical linguistics are examined alongside a critical study of other ideological, historical, and cultural issues which can be seen to inform the development of languages outside the Indo-European language family. Traditional courses on historical linguistics are, in essence, introductions to Indo-European linguistics. In contrast, this course seeks to achieve a much broader perspective, in which, for instance, Afroasiatic, African, Far Eastern, and Amerindian languages deserve the same attention and contribute in the same way to our better understanding of the mechanisms of language evolution. Moreover, that broad perspective will put special stress on how ideology shapes historical linguistics, through an overview of the history of the research. Furthermore, linguistics will be just one part of the course, since the ideological, historical, and cultural issues involved (re-construction of identity, ethnicity, gender, etc.) will play an essential role. Thus, a problem like the search for the homeland of the primitive speakers of Semitic or Indo-European will be analyzed not only from a linguistic point of view, but also from that of the critical study of the theoretical framework used in that research and the ideology hidden behind each hypothesis.

3201 Islam in the United States

An examination of the main elements of Islamic belief as well as particular characteristics of each major Islamic group in the United States. [GE cultures and ideas course.]

The main objectives of this course are to contrast and compare major Islamic groups in the United States and to provide basic descriptive information for the academic study of Islam. It will explore some of the important social, cultural, and economic trends which caused the divisions in American Islam. By the end of the course, students will have a basic knowledge of the main elements of Islamic belief as well as particular characteristics of each major Islamic group in the United States.

3204 The Middle East in the Media

Examination of contemporary Middle Eastern cultures through critical evaluation of the media which inform our understanding of international politics. [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

With deep historical roots, intricate ties with Europe, Asia, and Africa, and a dynamic contemporary environment, the cultures of the Middle East are suffused with numerous political issues. Not only does the complexity of these issues often make the cultures of the Middle East difficult to understand, reporting on these issues often tends itself to subtle journalistic bias. By focusing on several ongoing situations of modern Middle Eastern history, this course offers student insights into contemporary Middle Eastern cultures while fostering the ability to critically evaluate the media which inform our understanding of international politics.

3205 Women in the Muslim Middle East

Examination of the position of women in the contemporary Middle East; impact of regional environment on gender identity; gender bias studies in various Middle Eastern countries. [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

This course enhances an existing series of NELC courses which focus on the peoples and cultures of the Middle East region, providing an overview of the position of Muslim women of the the contemporary Middle East. Emphasis will be put on similarities and differences between Western feminist theory and current Middle Eastern regional theories and experiences. These objectives will be accomplished through studying some of the important socio-historical, cultural, and economic trends that shape the present condition. The positions of Middle Eastern women are not expressions of traditional or religious sentiments in any essentialist way. Rather they are patterns in which large social and historical issues, including religious issues and processes, are expressed. Therefore, after introductory reading of the major theories and interpretive models of gender based inequality, the concept of women of the Middle East will be placed in its own socio-historical and cross-cultural framework. While some have treated the Middle East as though it formed a single culture area, others have emphasized its diversity, seeing it as a border in which many different cultures have historically come into contact and, at times, conflict. Thus, one of the course's central questions will concern the nature and extent of the "unity" of the Middle East as constructed by scholars. Through a series of readings and discussions, students will be able to explore the realities and representations of the women in the region.

3501 Introduction to Islam

Examination of Islam as a world religion, enabling an understanding of its major tenets and beliefs as they are envisioned by insiders and outsiders.  [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

This course intends to provide an introductory survey of some of the central premises of Islamic beliefs and practices. It aims to delineate not only the development of Islam as a religion and as a system of belief, but also its growth into a multi-faceted and rich culture and civilization that contributed significantly to the currents of world civilization. This would entail a look at the growth of the major intellectual and spiritual traditions within the Islamic civilization as well as the relation of these to the milieu of their production. The course is broad in scope and introductory in level.

3508 Sufism

Examination of the distinctively Islamic mystical and spiritual features of Sufism and the relevance of its historical and cultural context. [GE cultures and ideas course.]

"Mysticism” and “spirituality” have been highly popular categories in the academic studies of religion, and they have been used use as self-evident, uncontested, and universally applicable categories. In studying Sufism the use of these two analytical categories resulted in an essentialist approach which described Sufism or tasawwuf as the major Islamic mystical tradition within Islam. Instead of focusing on the universality and spirituality of mysticism this course will approach Sufism as an inner, esoteric Islam, which means that its purpose is to offer a religion-specific study of Sufism. The focus will be on the distinctively Islamic mystical and spiritual features of Sufism as well as on the relevance of its historical and cultural context. We shall study Sufism by focusing on four major themes: Sufi cosmology, knowledge (gnosis), literature and culture. The readings for this course combine a number of interpretative scholarly works with texts written by Sufi authors. Additionally, student groups will be formed to examine and prepare presentations on the new, contemporary way of disseminating Sufi knowledge, and establishing and maintaining Sufi networks: the Sufi brotherhoods’ web pages online.

3620 Everyday Life in South Asia

An examination of everyday life as experienced by members of the culturally diverse population of South Asia. [GE cultures and ideas course.]

The cultural wealth and diversity of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka) mainly comes to the attention of the American public in the form of brief news reports on sectarian and other violence or concerning interruptions of national and international political processes. This course is designed for those who want to know more about how members of the culturally, religiously, and professionally diverse population of this important region experience, manage, and find meaning in their everyday lives. Anthropologists, historians, folklorists, and scholars of religion, media and cultural studies all contribute different insights on this subject. The broad-ranging essay collection of Mines and Lamb, (eds.),Everyday Life in South Asia, will ground the course, balanced with readings on contemporary folklore in everyday use and several recent documentary and feature films. By the end of this course, students will have familiarized themselves with a general picture of South Asian societies and cultures, from written case studies and sample documentary films, and will have had practice in interpreting indigenous folk narratives told in local contexts and international feature films as two kinds of artistic representations of social settings and groups.

3700 Mythology of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia

An introductory comparative survey of the mythology of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

This course is designed to provide students with a comparative overview of the mythologies of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Its focus is the stories that were recounted as successful integrators of perceived reality in the context of these two major ancient cultures. As such, it will identify and explain basic theoretical issues involved in the analysis of myth; examine the central narratives that have been preserved from those cultures; and investigate the varied perspectives that characterize the world-views and life-concerns expressed in these texts. By reading representative selections of both primary and secondary sources, students will be exposed to both the ancient texts themselves as well as relevant contemporary scholarship.

4597 Islamic Revival and Social Justice: Utopian Ideals and Lived Realities

Examination of modern Islamic revival movements in selected contemporary Muslim-majority societies. [GE culture and ideas course and Cross-Disciplinary seminar.]

Islamism is the belief that Islam should guide the political, economic, social, and cultural organization of an entire society. Especially in our world after 9/11, outsiders usually see Islamism as an extremist, or even terrorist, ideology inherently opposed to modernity and the West. But there is a wide variety of Islamists, and most of them have a constructive goal: bringing social justice to societies plagued with poverty, oppression, and corruption. Many of them value modern science, technology,economic development, and even democracy. These values often mean different things to Islamists than to those in the West, and one needs to understand what Muslims mean by these as they describe what agood society looks like in their eyes. We will take a close look at modern Islamist movements in this Capstone course. We examine both utopian ideals (in the religious manifestos of influential Islamist leaders about society and justice), and lived realities (in ethnographies and films showing how Islamist communities actually live). We consider how and why these ideals translate to realities, or fail to do so. Do Islamists actually have a viable vision of good society for the world today founded on justice and virtue? Does their vision pose a credible alternative to the Western model founded on individual freedom, consumer capitalism, and democracy? These are some of the most urgent global questions underlying the contemporary world’s political and social dilemmas at the start of the 21st century. Course materials include three ethnographic books giving an on-the-ground view of societies recently shaped by Islamism in Egypt, Turkey, and Iran (the most populous countries of the Middle East); excerpts from the writings of Islamist thinkers; analytical articles on Islamist figures and movements; newspaper articles with accounts from across the Muslim-majority world; documentary films, and fiction films.

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2241 Culture of the Contemporary Arab World [also available for Honors as 2241H]

A general survey and examination of the socio-cultural structure of the modern Arab world. [GE culture and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

The course consists of an analytical study of the cultural traits and patterns of contemporary Arab society based on scholarly research, recent field work, and personal experiences and observations in the Arab world. It examines the development of its language and dialects, beliefs, customs, and traditions within the framework of: a dynamically changing society; major ecological structures; the family and its value system; representative social, political and religious institutions; reform and challenges of modernization; trends in literature (with emphasis on the emotional and psychological dimensions of cultural traits and change), education, communications media, arts, and music. The course provides a rich and meaningful educational experience for the expansion of analytic skills, cultivation of aesthetic judgment, and development of insights into another culture, as well as a cultural context for the study of modern colloquial and/or Modern Standard Arabic.

2367 Issues in Arab-American Society, Culture, and Literature

Discussion, analysis, and writing about issues relating to Arab-American culture, society, and literature within the context of social diversity in the United States. [GE writing and comm course: level 2 and cultures and ideas and diversity soc div in the US course.]

The first aim of this course is to introduce students to the history and structure of the Arab-American community in the United States, providing in this way a diachronic and synchronic cross-cultural approach to the development of American society. Reading materials derived largely from critical, anthropological, sociological, and literary texts will be discussed from the perspective of important social issues such as gender, class, race, marginality, identity, ethnicity, discrimination, assimilation, acculturation, representation, alienation, and otherness. Through close reading, discussion, and writing assignments, students will think critically about social issues in the United States from the perspective provided by the Arab-American response to the American vision and experience. An overall objective of the course, therefore, is to encourage students to reflect on the social diversity of experience, to think beyond the language and codes of their own culture, and to appreciate and articulate other points of world-view.

3301 Contemporary Folklore in the Arab World

Study of comparative folklore in the Arab world, including verbal art, material culture, visual self- presentation, and performance. [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

This course will introduce students to a wealth of Arabic folklore, including the lore of Muslim, Christian and Jewish Arabs as well as Berbers, Kurds and other Arab world communities. For the purposes of this course folklore will be defined as traditional expressive culture—verbal art (e.g., myths, legends, folktales, riddles, jokes), material culture (e.g. the construction of local shrines, homes, boats as well as production of pottery, jewelry, embroidery, carpets), visual presentation of self (e.g., applications of henna, tattoos, dress, hairstyles), folk religion, rituals, festivals, and folk music (e.g., lullabies). Emphasis will be not on finished products but on cultural process. Students will look at what Arab world "folk" from different regions, religions and language and ethnic traditions have in common in regard to ethos, world view, practical and aesthetic needs and how they differ. By the end of the quarter it is to be hoped that students will have an enhanced respect for the power of traditional expressive culture, as a medium for understanding the affective dimension of any culture or community, and that of the Arab world in particular. Students will be given the theoretical tools to begin to be able to study other folklore forms and folk communities in which they are interested.

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2209 The World of the Rabbis

Examination of the origins, literature, and religious values of the movement of intellectuals who remade the culture of Judaism in the 2nd through 6th centuries. [GE cultures and ideas course.]

Judaism today has its roots in a remarkable movement of intellectuals who remade an entire people's culture in a few short centuries. These people were known as Rabbis, or Teachers, and are responsible for some of the classics of Judaism, such as the intricate dialectic of the Talmud, the fanciful and insightful biblical interpretations of the Midrash, and the poetry of the Jewish prayerbook. In this course students will get to know this movement: its history, its literature, and its religious values. In doing so students will explore questions important to the study of religions, such as how a religious people responds to catastrophe, the relationship of law and spirituality, and the nature of holiness in ancient societies.

2210 The Jewish Mystical Tradition [also available for Honors as 2210H]

The history of Jewish mysticism from antiquity to the present, with emphasis on its implications for the comparative study of religious experience. [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

Jewish mysticism has been a constant yet controversial undercurrent in Jewish history, ranging from antiquity to the present day. Its adherents have pursued striking visions of God enthroned on a huge chariot; sought to penetrate the mysteries of the divine personality, perceiving both male and female in the One God; followed a manic-depressive false messiah; worshipped God through joyful song and dance; and imbued classical Judaism with meaning and life its originators could never have imagined. The Jewish Mystical Tradition is a look into this way of interpreting Judaism and how it has affected Jewish history. Jewish mystical texts also provide a rare look into the personal religious experience of individual Jews. Using William James's classic Varieties of Religious Experience as a guide, students will probe the human dimensions of these forms of religious statement. Students will also learn how to read a mystical text, and to interpret the rich symbolism of the Kabbalah and other systems of Jewish mystical religion. This is also a course in the comparative study of religion and culture. In exploring Jewish mysticism, students will address questions central to the cross-cultural study of religion: Are all mystical experiences essentially the same? How can we tell the rational from the irrational? Can we reconstruct a person's individual experience from a written text? Is spirituality a force for stability or anarchy in society?

2216 The Medieval Jewish Experience

A survey of ten centuries of medieval Jewish culture from the rise of Islam to the death of Shabbetai Zvi, the false Messiah (1676). [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

Scattered through the lands of Christendom and Islam, medieval Jewish communities flourished from Spain to Persia, from England to the Yemen. Despite periodic persecutions, medieval Jewry proved to be enormously resilient and creative. Figures such as Saadya Gaon, Moses Maimonides, and Judah Loew of Prague provided their communities with dynamic leadership in troubled times, while bequeathing an impressive literary legacy to posterity. The rich and varied body of Hebrew classics composed during this period includes the commentaries of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Nahmanides, the poetry of Ibn Gabirol and Halevi, the Codes of Jacob B. Asher and Joseph Karo, and that treasury of Jewish mysticism, the Zohar. This course surveys ten centuries of medieval Jewish culture from the rise of Islam to the death of Shabbetai Zvi, the false Messiah (1676). Focusing on key figures and representative subjects, the lectures will seek to offer a balanced picture of the Jewish experience in both the Christian and Islamic worlds. A generous selection of primary sources (in translation) will introduce students to the social, intellectual, and spiritual worlds of medieval Jewry.

2241 Culture of Contemporary Israel [also available for Honors as 2241H]

An introduction to the culture of modern Israel: historical roots, socio-political institutions and developments, and literary and artistic creations reflecting the realities of contemporary Israeli society. [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

The purpose of this course is to familiarize students with contemporary Israeli culture in all of its diversity. In the fifty years since the founding of the State, Israeli society has faced a series of dramatic challenges and has undergone tremendous changes. This course will survey the major social, cultural, religious and political trends in Israel, focusing on the post-1967 period. Issues to be explored include responses to founding ideals and ideologies; the impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict; Jewish perceptions of Arabs; efforts to absorb new waves of immigration and to deal with questions of ethnicity; tensions between the religious and secular sectors of society; the centrality of the family; and the social, political and religious status of women. The course will draw on a broad range of material, including print media and films. By the end of the course, students should have an insight into the complexity of Israeli society and an understanding of Israel's role in Jewish life, the Middle East, and the world at large.

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2241 Persian Culture

A survey of Persian culture through the reading of Persian literature in translation, viewing of Persian films, and listening to Persian music. [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

This course will expose students to the diversity and richness of Persian culture. Because of the importance of religion in Persian culture, students will study in broad outline the distinguishing features of Shi'a Islam as practiced in Iran and they will be introduced to the main tenets of Persian sufism. The impact on Iran of two outside cultures - that of the Arabs and that of the industrialized West - will also be considered. The course will take into account endemic tensions in Persian culture: for example, between indigenous and outside forces, between absolutism and populism, etc. Much of the instruction will be through the examination of literary works, particularly twentieth century literary works; students will also see Iranian films and receive an introduction to Persian music and the Persian tradition of miniature painting.

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2241 Turkish Culture

An introduction to Turkish culture through reading of literature and criticism, and listening and viewing of films, slides, and performances arranged for the class. [GE cultures and ideas and diversity global studies course.]

This is a course exposing students to a diverse and living culture with a great and ancient heritage. Contributions of the local and international Turkish communities, in the form of performances arranged for the class, films, slides, and recordings, will form the in-class experience. Through these means and through assigned readings and discussion, students will comprehend the span and depth of the Turkish contribution to human values, and research one aspect of that culture in some detail according to his or her personal interests. By the end of the course students will have an enlightened understanding of the Turkish role in shaping human history and contemporary events.

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