Critical to understanding the modern Middle East is an appreciation of the rôle that religion has played in the societies of the region since Antiquity. In this course, we will examine the way that religion has functioned in Middle Eastern societies, beginning with ancient Near Eastern cultures, including ancient Israel, the Christian Roman Empire, and the Zoroastrian Sāsānian Empire of Iran. We will study the rise of Islam and its own patchwork of religious traditions, as well as the various Islamic societies that emerged—from the earliest Islamic empires to the Ottoman and Iranian Empires. The class will conclude with a thorough look at religion in the Middle Eastern landscape today, covering topics such as religion in Turkey, Iran, and Israel, minority identities, the challenge of nationalism, the Bahāʾī faith, radical Islam, and collective memory. Throughout the course, we will touch upon several recurring themes, including states’ use and abuse of religion, the nature of religion as a primary marker of identity, and varying patterns of religious expression in the region.
This course represents a combination of a lecture and seminar approaches and individual participation in class dialogues is critical. Most classes include a discussion period for conversation about required reading. Each student will have the opportunity to present a brief review of a text, after which he/she will lead a discussion. At the end of this course, it is hoped that students will have not only a better understanding of the Middle East, but have developed better research skills, practiced critical thinking and reading, and gained experience collecting and presenting information clearly.
Course grades will be assigned on the basis of several elements:
Each student has the opportunity to submit up to two extra credit response papers to contemporary news articles on religion and society in the Middle East. In order to receive credit, you must read and submit an article from a newspaper listed below, along with your thoughts on the article (one page). Other extra credit opportunities will be announced periodically throughout the semester; students will be allowed a maximum of five total extra credit opportunities during the term. You are also strongly encouraged to follow Middle East news during (and after!) the semester. Some mainstream newspaper sources:
Berkey, Jonathan P. The Formation of Islam: Religion and society in the Near East, 600–1800. Themes in Islamic history, 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Lee, Robert Dermer. Religion and politics in the Middle East: Identity, ideology, institutions, and attitudes. 2nd ed. Boulder: Westview Press, 2014.
Readings from course textbooks appear in small caps. All other readings include full bibliographical citations and are available electronically on the class Desire2Learn website. It is highly recommended that you prepare in advance by downloading and/or printing all online readings at the beginning of the course, so that you can concentrate on reading them over the semester. While ‘recommended reading’ are not obligatory, they may be useful when preparing research papers (those with an asterisk (*) are highly encouraged). Primary source readings are noted below.