The Anthropology of Religion

This course is not a survey of religious traditions. It is an introduction to anthropological approaches to the study of religion. As we read about different religious beliefs, the lectures, ethnographic readings, documentaries, news clips and discussions will focus on anthropological theories and approaches at the center of the study of religion. Using old and recent anthropological texts, we will cover ethnographic understandings of religion and religion as an anthropological category of analysis with a focus on subjective religious experiences. We will discuss how religious identities and experiences are invented and performed in different historical, geographical and political contexts.

The Anthropology of Islam

This course is an overview of major anthropological studies of Muslims in different cultural and sociopolitical contexts and geographic environments. Building on theological approaches to Islam, the course highlights the diversity, meanings, and interpretations of everyday Muslim experiences through the works of Asad, Geertz, Eickelman, Akbar, Hammoudi, Mahmoud, and others. Using ethnographic, historical, and religious works, we explore how “Islam is produced” and reinterpreted in sociocultural and historical contexts. In addition to theoretical debates and approaches at the center of the anthropology of Islam, the course covers the subjects of Muslim preachers and interpreters, Islam and Internet, gender, political Islam, Islamic finance, martyrdom, European and American Islam, and sectarianism in Islam, among other issues.

The Anthropology of Sports

Until recently, and despite the economic, political and cultural significance of sports in everyday social life, sport has historically taken a limited space in thematic as well theoretical anthropological discussions. This course is organized as an overview of the multiple ways in which sports are used as a topic of anthropological inquiry and a window to larger cultural and social questions of nationalism, gender and race among other themes. Sport is therefore used to examine the socio-cultural dynamics of local, national and international political and economic institutions. The course is structured as a lecture and weekly discussion sections. It aims to introduce students to the significance of sport in the interpretation of social and cultural issues. It is not a history or a socio-cultural comparative study of sport. Instead, it examines different types of sports (soccer, football, basketball, cricket, cycling, boxing, rugby, tennis, etc.) through major anthropological categories of analysis such as masculinity, ethnicity, nationalism, class, youth, power, and neoliberalism among others.

Jews of the Islamic World in the Modern Period (1840-Present)

This course introduces students to the Jewish societies in Islamic countries. It offers a broad survey of the history of Jewish communities from the visit of Sir Moses Montefiore and Adolphe Crémieux to Syria following Damascus Affair in 1840 to the present. We will highlight the encounter between European Jews and their Middle Eastern and North African brethren by discussing the impact of Ashkenazi Jews as well as the process of Westernization and modernization on these Jewish communities. In addition, the course covers their settlements from North Africa in the west to Persia in the east. First, we will focus on the traditional internal social structures as well as the cultural, religious and economic characteristics of Middle Eastern and North African Jewry. Second, we will assess the changes that affected these communities during the 19th and 20th centuries. We will examine the nature of Muslim and Jewish relationships and compare communities in urban and rural areas. The central themes are the evolution of Jewish-Muslim relations, the nature of Jewish communal existence under Islam, and Jewish society and economic activity. We will conclude with a discussion of the status of Oriental Jewries in Israel today.

Introduction to Islam

This is an introductory survey of the religious and cultural foundations of Islam. Drawing on traditional primary and secondary texts as well as sociological, anthropological and historical sources, our main approach centers on how the religious doctrines and teachings interact with the socio-cultural environment. First, we will cover the context of pre-Islamic Arabia, Islamic doctrines, and ritual practices. Second, we will provide an overview of the Qur’an and the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Third, we will focus on the intellectual diversity within Islam and cover the differences between Sunni and Shi‘i Islam as well as the mystical practices of Sufism. Fourth, we will broadly discuss some of the modern interpretations within Islam and their variations across the Muslim World. Finally, we will look at Islamic practices and Muslims in Africa, Asia, America, and Europe. The main objectives of this course are (1) to introduce students to the fundamental beliefs and practices of Muslims, (2) to acquaint students with the religious and cultural pluralism within Islam (3) and to familiarize students with some sources of Islamic culture and religion.

Islam in Africa

This course introduces students to historical, religious, political and cultural aspects of Islam in Africa from about the 8th century to the present. We will look at the Islamization of African societies and the Africanization of Islam. We will discuss the reception of Islam by African societies and its interaction with local African customs and traditions. The course will also address Islam in Africa and its relationship with Judaism, Christianity and colonialism. Our primary goal is to understand how Islam and African religions transformed each other. By looking at Islamic experiences in west, north, south, east, and central Africa, our aim is to analyze how African Muslims interpret Islamic traditions in the context of their local traditions, musical heritage, artistic lives, healing practices, religious festivals, educational experiences, and cultural norms.

Islamic Movements in the Contemporary Muslim World

This course provides an overview of Islamic movements in the contemporary Muslim world. It examines the roots and traces the development of modern Islamic movements in Africa, the Middle East, and southeast and central Asia. An introductory section of the course will examine the “Islamic Model ” that inspires contemporary political Islamic activists. The first section will also be devoted to the role of Western colonialism and the failures of Arab nationalism and post-Independence governments in the development of a new Islamic political thought. In the second part, we will look at the rise of Islamic political movements from a local and regional force to a global political movement. The Muslim Brotherhood Movement of Egypt and its offshoots throughout the Arab world, Wahhabism, and Shi’i political activism will be discussed as three significant paradigms that emerged in the twentieth century Muslim world. In addition to these paradigms, the course will discuss other offshoots such as al-Jamâ’a al-Islâmiyya and Jihad of Egypt, the Lasghar Jihad of Indonesia, the Tanzeem Islami of Pakistan, the Taliban of Afghanistan, the FIS of Algeria, al-‘Adl wa-l– Ihsan of Morocco, al-Nahda of Tunisia, Hamas and Islamic Jihad of Palestine, the Virtue Party of Turkey, and al-Qa’ida. Besides focusing on the political, social and economic agendas of these movements, the course will highlight their religious and intellectual origins and their stand on such issues as secularism, social justice, the West, modernity, and democracy in contemporary Muslim societies.

North African Societies: The Dynamics of History, Culture and Politics

This interdisciplinary course examines colonial and postcolonial North African issues and themes by taking into account North Africa’s wider regional and global interconnections to the Middle East, Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Readings will cover Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. We will read old and new material to understand the transformations that took place in these societies in historical, political and social contexts. The focus and content of the course derives from many political, sociological, historical, and anthropological sources and experiences. Our primary goal is to highlight the thematic, theoretical, and methodological approaches and contributions in the field of North African studies by underlining the relationships, continuities, and discontinuities between the colonial past and postcolonial realities that led to the last political uprisings. We will explore social, political and economic themes at the center of North African societies today. These include, among others, economic challenges, political parties and state governance, media, human rights, regional conflict, gender issues, literary traditions, nationalism, languages and educational policies, migration, Islam and Islamic movements, and minorities among others. Our secondary goal is to situate and assess the theoretical contributions of North African scholarship in the wider anthropological, sociological and historical research of the Middle East.

Introduction to Shia Islam

This course is an introduction to the historical origins of Shi‘i and Sunni schism within Islam. It surveys the histories, ideas, and practices of both doctrines. We will outline the different Shi‘a sects as well as their religious authorities and practices and discuss their similarities and differences with the Sunni schools of law. We will look at the concepts of the Imamate, Creation, Occultation, Intercession, Ta‘ziya and other Shi‘a religious practices and beliefs. This course will also focus on the legal Sunni and Shi‘a foundations of these beliefs. It will introduce students to the views of some theological schools that emerged from this sectarianism within Islam. Mu‘tazilite, Kharajite, Isma‘ili and Murji‘a views will be considered. We will conclude by linking these historical and legal differences to recent political events in the Middle East. We will cover the recent political divisions between Muslims from the Iranian revolution to the recent sectarian civil war in Iraq by focusing on examples from Iran, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tanzania, Yemen, and Lebanon.

Ethnic and Religious Minorities in the Middle East and North Africa

This course provides a descriptive and analytical overview of ethnic and religious minorities in the contemporary Middle East and North Africa (MENA). There is a general belief that most countries in the Middle East and North Africa are ethnically and religiously one of the most homogeneous areas of the world today. Despite the apparent homogeneity on the pan-Arab and pan-Islamic levels, we observe a clear ethnic and religious heterogeneity and diversity in many Middle Eastern and North African countries such as Iran, Algeria, Syria, Turkey , Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Israel/Palestine, and Sudan. This ethnic and religious diversity in modern Middle Eastern nation-states demands a close study of its historical roots and modern socio-political manifestations. This course is an attempt to examine the question of how the concept of minority (religious and ethnic) has emerged as a key factor in the cultural, economic, political, religious, and educational lives of modern Middle Eastern nation-states. We will explore the historical dynamics of inter- communal conflict and contacts. We will visit some of the theories of ethnic studies as an introduction to our understanding of the policies adopted by states towards minorities. In addition, we will focus on a number of case studies throughout the Middle East and North Africa to describe and analyze the historical relationship between minorities and states.