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Intro to Middle Eastern Culture, History, and Literature

Session A: July 6 - July 16, 2021
1:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Philosophy and Society
Ali Rahman

This course will study the diverse culture and literature from the Middle East including works from Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian traditions. In the nine class periods we will briefly explore the Abrahamic religions, folk tales, oral cultures, mysticism, spiritual poetry, temporality, postcolonial consequences, and orientalism. The goal of this course is to give students a familiarity with the many cultures and peoples of the Middle East, the interaction between the East and West from the ancient to modern times, and to aid in the development of writing and critical thinking skills so that students can engage in well-articulated and nuanced discussion of cultures outside of their own.

Learning Outcomes

  • To critically engage with the texts individually and draw connections between them through group discussions, activities, and writing assignments.
  • To reflect on our own cultural lenses when studying “the Other”.
  • To attain higher awareness of concepts like Orientalism, Nationalism, Colonialism, Imperialism, etc.
  • To get an introductory yet wide-reaching understanding of various aspects of Middle Eastern culture, history, and literature and how those things came to be.


• Maḥfouẓ, Najuib. The Journey of Ibn Fattouma. New York: Anchor, 1993.
All other texts will be available through links on Canvas*

Course Plan

Day 1

  • Intro to course
  • Map, language and culture of Middle East
  • Introduce oral traditions and culture

HW Due: Read selected articles

Day 2

  • Abrahamic Religions
  • The Qur’an and The Old Testament

HW Due:
Read both versions of Joseph story

Day 3

  • Folklore, 1001 Nights
  • Group work on folktales

HW Due:
Read folk tales

Day 4

  • Al-Andalus AKA Muslim Spain
  • Sufism and Mysticism in Abrahamic religions
  • Group work on Andalusian poetry

HW Due:
Read Sufi Poems

Day 5

  • Travel narratives and Ibn Fattouma

HW Due:
Read first half of The Journey of Ibn Fattouma

Day 6

  • Temporality in Post-colonial world
  • Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East

HW Due:
Finish The Journey of Ibn Fattouma

Day 7

  • Nationalism, Colonialism, Postcolonial world, and Orientalism

HW Due: Read selected articles

Day 8

  • Palestine/Israel
  • Group work on short story

HW Due:
Read “Returning to Haifa”

Day 9

  • Modern Middle East: aftermath of Arab Spring, etc.
  • Open Discussion

HW Due:

  • Paper

Bring questions you have about Middle East