New MESAAS Courses

Religion in Modern South Asia: Concepts & Histories
MDES UN3046, Professor Sayori Ghoshal
Tuesday: 12:10-2:00pm

Instead of taking our understanding of ‘religion’ for granted, this course explores precisely that concept and its history. It asks: is religion a universal category that has remained unchanged across time periods and in all societies? Are the relations between various ‘religions’ equal? How do debates around the question of religion inform other categories in our social life – race, gender, community history? Mainstream Western theories tend to focus on faith, scriptures, holy texts and rituals as universal components of all religions. However, a body of critical scholarship, demonstrates how the various orientalist and colonial encounters between the west and the non-west produces ‘religion’ as a universal, constant which can be found in all societies. This course will explore both the mainstream and the critical scholarship on religion, as well as examine what role this critical re-formulation of religion plays in questions of race, gender, caste, culture, secularism and history-writing in South Asia.

Crisis and War in the Horn of Africa
MDES UN3131, Professor Elleni Zeleke
Wednesday: 2:10-4:00pm

The Horn of Africa is often described as a disaster story, a land of terror, crisis and failure. But is it really a place in crisis? In what ways and for whom?  For the people of the region, what constitutes meaningful social and political life?  Is it possible to approach politics in the Horn of Africa through lenses other than those of violence and disaster?  Are there other methods of understanding the experiences of crisis and recovery?  In addition to examining emerging research trends in the region the course examines various approaches to the questions of war, humanitarian intervention, peace building, democratization, and economic reform. It considers how the study of popular culture, religious change, and social movements provide other ways to think about collective life. The seminar is intended for those interested in the study of Africa and the Middle East, and other regions that may seem bleak to outsiders but can provide new ways of understanding politics.

Cannabis & Culture: Hashish, Law, Social History
, Professor Ibrahim K El Houdaiby
Tuesday: 12:10-2:00pm
The course examines the shifting popular and legal attitudes towards cannabis from Mamluk to contemporary Egypt. How were cannabis conceptualized and treated in pre-prohibition (and precolonial) Egypt? What were the dominant legal views on the consumption and trade of cannabis? What were the concerns of sharia jurists, and how are they different from legislators in contemporary Egypt? Why is the Egyptian regime insistent on criminalizing cannabis, despite the failure to curb the growth in consumption? Is the decriminalization movement simply restoring a pre-prohibition order? And why and in what contexts is the consumption of cannabis tolerated today despite being criminalized?

Major Debates in the Study of Africa
MDES GU4160, Professor Mahmood Mamdani
Thursday: 10:10-12:00pm
This course will focus on key debates that have shaped the study of Africa in the post-colonial African academy.  We will cover six key debates: Historiography; Slavery: Premodern and Modern; State Formation; Colonialism and Difference; Nationalism; Political Identity and Political Violence. The approach will be multi-disciplinary. To the extent possible, readings will be illustrative of different sides in the debate.

Themes in Islamic Theology: Modern Questions
MDES GU4238, Professor Hussein 
Monday: 6:10-8:00pm
This graduate level course studies the major themes of Islamic theology. Following theoretical and historical discussions, it covers the early debates concerned with Muslim views of God, the nature of the Qurʾan, the prophethood of Muhammad and the status of Islamic law. It also discusses divine vs. human will, the role of politics in Muslim view of salvation and the limits of rationality. The course traces how these topics moved from simple formulae to complex concepts due to socio-political controversies and conditions, whether they were sectarian or interreligious conflicts, crises of legitimacy, colonialism or modernity. The arguments of various schools are presented, and translated excerpts from prominent theologians are studied (texts will also be available in Arabic). As we read these texts we ask ourselves a number of questions. For example, what alternatives were possible for theologians other than what later became standard Muslim doctrines? What is the importance of imagination in the creation of these theological systems? Do modern Muslim theologians adapt the classical tradition to address current challenges, or are they circumventing classical answers in search for desired responses? Can a woman be a prophet? How does theology intersect with Sufism and Islamic jurisprudence? For religious studies, the course is meant to help students see the problems of theology from an Islamic viewpoint that deepens their understanding of broader questions. For Islamic studies, focusing on theology offers students an opportunity to engage with major debates from an important, though understudied field.

Advanced Urdu
MDES GU4640, Professor Aftab Ahmad
Tuesday/Thursday: 6:10-8:00pm
This is a one-semester course in advanced Urdu language. It will be taught in the fall semester. The goal of the course is to develop students’ linguistic skills i.e. listening, speaking, reading, writing and cultural skills in Urdu, and give students in-depth exposure to some of the finest works of classical and modern Urdu prose. Special emphasis will be given to developing a high-register vocabulary. Necessary grammar points will also be explained for developing an accurate and nuanced understanding of the Urdu language. After completing this course, students will be able to read and enjoy Urdu classics and critical academic texts related to various disciplines i.e. old tales, short stories, essays, history, satire, criticism, politics, current issues etc. along with effective speaking skills suited to active interaction in the speech community and a more advanced academic discussion for undergraduate and graduate students. Students will develop an in-depth understanding of South Asian society and culture as well. This course will prepare students to take MDES GU4635 Readings in Urdu Literature I.


Reading and Grammar Review in Persian
MDES GU4712, Professor 
Saeed Honarmand
Monday/Wednesday: 2:10-4:00pm
Prerequisites: Three years of prior coursework in Persian, one year of Persian for Heritage Speakers, or the instructor’s permission This course is intended to serve as advanced grammar for modern and classical Persian poetry and literature above the Advanced courses. It will provide an overview of the fundamentals of Persian grammar, as required for the reading of Persian texts in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. It includes extensive reading of classical and modern Persian prose and poetry, with practice in grammar and composition at a high level. Through reading and writing, students will review Persian Grammar concepts. Emphasis will be placed on the Verb system, idiomatic verbs, and expressions in colloquial and formal Persian. As an introduction to the fundamental structures, this course also involves grammatical foundations, reading and translating for research purposes. The materials are selected from the number of sources: A Grammar of Contemporary Persian by Gilbert Lazard and General Persian: Fundamental Structures by Ahmad Saffar Moqadam; and reading assignments that will be given throughout the course.

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