Below are some of the new and highlighted fall 2017 course offerings from the Department of Near Eastern Studies.
The Middle East in the News: Politics, Society, Religion and Culture (NES 1998)
Instructor: Ross Brann
Class time: R 2:55-4:10
The peoples, cultures, religions, and politics of the Middle East are never far removed from the front pages of the most influential journals and newspapers. This course will engage students in discussing current religious, political, and socio-cultural concerns and issues in the Middle East, including the intersection of American interests and policies in the region.
Islam and Politics: Between an Islamic State and Daily Life (NES 2607)
Instructor: Aaron Rock-Singer
Class time: MWF 1:25-2:15
In the early twentieth century, a series of movements arose in the Middle East and South Asia, calling Muslims to return to Islam. Today, leaders and members of such groups –now known as Islamists –insist that one cannot live a fully Islamic life in the absence of an Islamic state. How and why did these movements come to focus on building an Islamic state? When did Islam come to be seen as indivisible from Politics, and what does it mean for Islam and Politics to be related? Are contemporary claims to Islam as the basis for political action consistent with the ways in which Muslims have understood their core texts historically? This course will introduce students to the study of Religion and Politics in Islamic History, beginning with the early Islamic community under the rule of the Prophet Muhammad, stretching through a period of rule that saw multiple Islamic Caliphates, and finally, reaching the present day. The bulk of this course, however, will focus on the diverse ways in which Muslims in the twentieth and twenty first centuries have laid claim to their religion as a template for political and social action. In particular, it will push students to consider how Muslim men and women live religion in their daily lives, whether through dress, prayer, or facial hair, and how these claims to religion shape political systems from the ground up.
Drinking through the Ages: Intoxicating Beverages in Near Eastern and World History (NES 2522)
Instructor: Christopher M. Monroe
Class time: MW 2:55- 4:10
This course examines the production and exchange of wine, beer, coffee and tea, and the social and ideological dynamics involved in their consumption. We start in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and end with tea and coffee in the Arab and Ottoman worlds. Archaeological and textual evidence will be used throughout to show the centrality of drinking in daily, ritual and political life.
Wondrous Literatures of the Near East (NES 2754)
Instructor: Deborah A. Starr
Class time: TR 11:40-12:55
This course examines Near East's rich and diverse literary heritage. We will read a selection of influential and wondrous texts from ancient to modern times, spanning geographically from the Iberian peninsula to Iran. We will trace three major threads: myths of creation and destruction; travel narratives; and poetry of love and devotion. Together we will read and discuss such ancient works as the 'Epic of Gilgamesh' and 'The Song of Songs,' as well as selections from medieval works such as the 'Travels' of Ibn Battuta, the 'Shahnameh' of Ferdowsi, poetry of Yehuda HaLevi, and The Thousand and One Nights. The modern unit will include work by Egyptian Nobel Laureate, Naguib Mahfouz. Students will also have the opportunity to research and analyze primary source materials in the collections of Cornell Rare Books and Manuscript Collection, and the Johnson Art Museum. All material is in English translation.
Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (NES 2610)
Instructor: Lori Khatchadourian
Class time: TR 2:55-4:10
The Near East is often defined by "firsts": the first cities, writing, and complex societies. Archaeology has long looked to the region for explanations of the origins of civilization. The Middle East has also long been a place where archaeology and politics are inextricably intertwined, from Europe's 19th century appropriation of the region's heritage, to the looting and destruction of antiquities in recent wars in Syria and Iraq. This introductory course moves between past and present. It offers a survey of 10,000 years of human history, from the appearance of farming villages to the dawn of imperialism, while also engaging current debates on the contemporary stakes of archaeology in the Middle East. Covering Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and the Caucasus, our focus is on past material worlds and the modern politics in which they are entangled.
Daily Life in the Biblical World (NES 2662)
Instructor: Jeffrey Zorn
Class time: MWF 1:25-2:40
This course will survey the common and not-so-common daily activities of the world of ancient Israel, with supplementary material from its neighbors in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Canaan. Many courses cover aspects of ancient political history or ancient literature, but these often focus on the activities of members of social elites (who produced most of the writing), at the expense of the activities of more average citizens. The focus of this class is on ancient technologies, human interactions with the environment and how these play into the creation and maintenance of social systems. It will provide a broad spectrum, spanning all social classes, and many different kinds of resources and activities. Material to be covered will include topics such as food production and processing, pottery production, metallurgy, glass making, cloth production and personal adornment, implements of war, medicine, leisure time (games and music), and others.
Cosmopolitanism, Tolerance, Coexistence (NES 4708/6708)
Instructor: Deborah A. Starr
Class Time: T 2:30 - 4:25
What does it mean to call individuals, cities, or societies "cosmopolitan?" What are the implications when one invokes tolerance to resolve conflict? Do appeals for "tolerance" and "coexistence" redefine or reinforce existing power relations? To address these questions, we will begin by reading and discussing Kant's writings on hospitality, and then consider writings of contemporary theorists such as Martha Nussbaum, Bruce Robbins, David Harvey, Wendy Brown and others. To further our understanding of the implications of these terms, in the second half of the course, we will examine representations of modern "cosmopolitan" Alexandria. The Egyptian port city, has a long history of rich cultural interaction, immortalized in literature and film. Readings and discussions will interrogate the relationship between the city's cosmopolitan character and its colonial history. We will read works by: E. M. Forster, Constantin Cavafy, Lawrence Durrell, Edwar al-Kharrat, Yitzhak Gormezano Goren and Randa Jarrar. We will also discuss Youssef Chahine's semi-autobiographical Alexandria film, Alexandria Again and Forever.
Liminality in Near Eastern and World History (NES 4914/6914)
Instructor: Christopher M. Monroe
Class time: T 10:10-12:35
In this seminar students apply Victor Turner's conceptions of liminality and anti-structure to early civilizations, network formation, Mediterranean connectivity, ethnicity, and various cross-cultural interactions from the Bronze Age to the present. We will illuminate the transformative roles played by foreigners, travelers, frontiers, borders, and bodies of water by interpreting the materials and texts of history through a liminal lens that reveals potent forces harnessed for political and economic ends. We pay special attention to bodies of water, which historically have created highly transformative thresholds--full of opportunities and risks--for experts to exploit in an almost shamanistic manner. We look at rites of passage on a political level, and see how liminal agents foster emergence, complexity, internationalism, and collapse. By observing past attitudes toward the marginalized, we hope to gain insight into how present and future cultures might embrace liminal agents and conditions in a more cooperative spirit than has occurred.