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Fall 2021

MES 72900: New Ethnographic Writings on the Middle East

Professor Christa Salamandra
Wednesday, 6:30-8:30, room TBA
3 credits

This MA-level seminar introduces students to recent trends in ethnographic research and writing. Designed for students from various disciplinary backgrounds, the course also serves as an introduction to anthropological ethnography. Students will be required to read and discuss one book-length ethnography each week, and to produce book review essays in preparation for potential publication. Most assigned texts will have been published within the past five years. Themes explored in these works include human rights, medicine and health, media, popular culture, migration, gender, and sexuality. Methodological approaches include participantobservatory fieldwork, archival research and oral history.

MES 73000—History of the Modern Middle East

Professor Dina Le Gall
Thursday 6:30-8:30, room TBA
3 credits 

This course introduces students to major dynamics and issues in the history of the Middle East in the past two centuries and seeks to nurture critical historical thinking about the region. We will touch on a wide range of topics, from different forms of colonial intervention, to modernizing reforms and reforming elites, the move from empire to a new state order, the politics and culture of nationalism, post-colonial states and authoritarian regimes, Islamist mobilization, and recent neo-liberal politics. Proceeding in a roughly chronological order, we will weave thematic discussions related to women and gender, environmental history, urban history, history of consumption, etc. into that framework. All along, a central arching theme of the course will be modernity: what shape it took at different times and places, how it was perceived and experienced, what challenges and tensions it engendered, who were the beneficiaries and losers.

Class discussions will be guided by reading questions handed out in advance, one of which students will answer in writing before class. For example: To what extent was Ottoman reform founded upon emulation of the West? How was WWI a watershed in ME political culture? How were women and gender deployed in nationalist and modernizing projects of the inter-war period? What best explains the resilience of ME post-colonial authoritarian regimes? What has given Islamist movements (of different kinds) their purchase? Has globalization been primarily destabilizing in the ME and why? The final assignment for the course is a 6-8 pages argument-based analytical essay.

MES 75900--Islamophobia in America

Professor Mucahit Bilici
Wednesday, 6:30-8:30, room TBA 
3 credits 

This course provides an overview of the contemporary phenomenon of Islamophobia—a problem of inequality that also goes under the name “anti-Muslim racism,” or simply fear of Islam and Muslims. How deep-seated is this problem? In what forms (gender, diet, politics, education, law, foreign policy, etc.) does Islamophobia manifest itself in the American context? And how do American Muslims respond? The course investigates Islamophobia, both as a phenomenon and as a critical term, with the aim of developing a working definition that neither applies the term excessively and anachronistically, nor reduces it to a copy of an anti-Black racism or Antisemitism. Equally important will be questions of the uses and abuses of Islamophobia by both anti-Muslim and Muslim actors in the contemporary culture wars. Finally, we will seek to understand the phenomenon of Islamophobia in conjunction with war and terrorism, immigration and American nationalism, and White Supremacy.

MES 76900--Prison, Writing, and Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa

Professor Shareah Taleghani
Tuesdays 6:30 pm-8:30, room TBA
3 Credits

This course will examine works of “prison literature” or writing about prison produced in the Middle East and North Africa in the past six decades. The first part of the course will consider the debates about prison literature or prison writings as a genre, issues of state censorship and co-option of dissident literature, and the relationship between literature, narrative, and human rights discourse more generally. The second part of the course will focus on the aesthetics and forms of specific works of prison writing in order to elucidate how different authors reconstruct the experience of political detention and how such literary works replicate and complicate the narrative conventions of and construction of the detainee as a speaking subject in human rights reportage. Special attention will be paid to how authors represent detainees’ experiences of vulnerability and recognition, torture, the emotional geographies of prison life, and the act of writing as a form of resistance. In addition to selections of poetry and short stories, primary readings may include Sunallah Ibrahim’s That Smell, Fadhil al-Azzawi’s Cell Block-Five, Sinan Antoon’s I’jaam, Hiba Dabbagh’s Just Five Minutes, and Mustafa Khalifa’s The Shell, and Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains among others. Secondary and critical readings may include works by Joseph Slaughter, Sidonie Smith and Kay Schaffer, Barbara Harlow, Judith Butler, Bryan Turner, Dylan Rodriguez, and Elaine Scarry among others.

MES 73500--The Quran: Literary Perspectives (Cross-listed with the PhD Program in Comparative Literature)

Professor Anna Akasoy
Thursday, 2:00-4:00, room TBA 
3 credits 

As the scope of Comparative Literature departments is being diversified and globalized, the Qur’an is frequently included as a canonical text of world literature. There is no doubt that the Qur’an is a text of great, even singular importance in the Islamic tradition, but what does it mean to treat the Qur’an in the context of literature, especially comparative literature? Is a text which is considered inimitable in the Islamic tradition also incomparable? This course aims at bridging the gap between two different fields, one the study of the Qur’an in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, the other the study of literature. The course will provide students with an introduction to perspectives on the Qur’an in recent scholarship, but we will be primarily exploring the Qur’an and its literary dimensions in conversation with select examples of Middle Eastern, European and world literature. The course will focus on three topics: 1) Prophecy as a mode of literary production. We will be discussing theories of prophecy in medieval Islamic philosophy and for comparative purposes material from the Arabian Nights as well as Mario Vargas Llosa’s The War at the End of the World. 2) The Qur’an and poetry. The Qur’an itself states that Muhammad was not a poet, but his historical milieu was very much defined as a literary space in which poetry loomed large. In addition to samples of pre-Islamic and classical Arabic poetry, we will be exploring Rumi’s Masnavi, a key text of Sufism which is sometimes referred to as the Qur’an in Persian. We will also be discussing western European responses to Middle Eastern poetry (e.g., Goethe’s West-Eastern Divan). 3) The Qur’an and storytelling. This section will focus mostly on stories of prophets, notably Joseph. We will be discussing other forms of storytelling in medieval Islamic literature (the ‘stories of the prophets’) as well as Biblical storytelling and examples from modern Middle Eastern (e.g., Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz) and European literature (e.g., Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers). This course does not require any previous knowledge of the Qur’an, Arabic literature or Islamic history.

MES 78000--Race in the Middle East and North Africa (Cross-listed with the PhD Programs in Anthropology and History) (Instructors’ permission required)

Professors Mandana Limbert and Beth Baron
Thursday, 2:00-4:00, room TBA
3 credits

This seminar explores how notions of race (jins or `unsur and similar terms in Turkish, Persian, and other Middle Eastern languages) have been examined, experienced, and deployed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In particular, and in dialogue with scholarship on the United States, the Americas, and the Atlantic, the course addresses practices, policies, and beliefs of hierarchy and power, “blood,” biology, and marriage, appearance and regulation, exclusion and inclusion. Rather than presuming either the stability of the notion of “race” or its “irrelevance” (as it is often argued) for the MENA region, this seminar highlights the specific, differing, and changing ways that race has been understood, used, and reproduced in the Middle East and North Africa; among Middle Easterners and North Africans in Sub-Saharan Africa; in confrontations and conversations with Europeans; and among diaspora populations in the United States.


Spring 2021
Fall 2020

Past Courses

Spring 2020

MES 71000: Approaches to Middle Eastern Studies

Professor Christa Salamandra
Thursday 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

This masters-level seminar introduces students to major themes, concepts, and methods in modern Middle East Studies. It covers a range of disciplines, including anthropology, comparative literature, ethnomusicology, film and media studies, sociology, and urban studies. It traces the development of the field, its changing concerns, and often contentious politics. Through sessions guided by CUNY faculty, students discover the sources, methods, and debates that inform contemporary academic expertise on the Middle East. Students are encouraged to hone their disciplinary, thematic, and geographic interests—and meet potential professors and advisors—in preparation for course selection and thesis direction.

MES 75900: Nationalism and Outsiders in the Middle East

Professor Göner
Wednesday 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m

This course provides a historical and conceptual overview of nationalism in the Middle East with a focus on the experiences of outsiders, as well as global economic and political relations that shape different nationalism(s) in the region. It aims to provide students with both an overview of the development of nationalism in the Middle East in general and a more detailed knowledge of the construction of the nation-states within several countries in particular. We will start the course with an exploration of the theoretical literature on nationalism and nation-states. We will then critically examine these concepts through an in-depth focus on case studies from the Middle East. Throughout we will keep our focus on the central role of outsiders in defining the nation and nationalism, as well as the global actors and processes that shape the constructions of nationalism in the region. Doing so we will develop a conceptual framework that can account for the complex relations between key local, national, and international actors, as well as political, economic and cultural processes that can account for the complex constructions of nationalisms in the region.​

MES 76900: Dissent, Exile, and Revolution in Literature and Film of the Middle East and North Africa

Professor Taleghani
Monday 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

While mainstream US media outlets tended to treat the Arab Uprisings as isolated and ahistorical events, fueled solely by youth and social media culture, citizens and scholars of the region are well aware of the long history of people’s resistance and dissent against colonial and authoritarian regimes. This course examines literature and other forms of cultural production as complex sites of aesthetic and creative contestation against the politics of imperialism, authoritarianism, and exile. Framing our discussion of works of literature and films from Syria, Egypt, Libya, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, and other countries of the region, we will consider and debate theoretical writings on dissent, resistance, and exile including Ranciere, Ivie, Said, Harlow, Abu Lughod, Abani among others). Primary texts may include Abdelaziz’s The Queue, Habibi’s The Pessoptimist, Sirees’ The Silence and the Roar,  Antoon’s The Book of Collateral Damage among  others.​

MES 79001: Capstone Seminar

Professor Anthony Alessandrini
Tuesday 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

This capstone seminar is intended to enable students to integrate and synthesize the knowledge of the Middle East and North Africa that they have developed during their previous study into a culminating applied final project. Projects to be developed in the course of the seminar may include, but are not limited to: artistic and/or documentary videos; source or archival directories; annotated bibliographies; academic papers synthesizing secondary sources; artistic performances, whether live or recorded (or both); exhibitions/installations; literary or cultural criticism; feature-length journalism; reports on services; websites or computer applications. In pursuing their final projects, students will be encouraged to interact with the rich Middle Eastern and diasporic resources in and around New York City, including museums, collections, archives, research and policy institutes, neighborhood cultural programs and centers, religious institutions, political organizations, and media organizations and projects, as well as related cultural and intellectual events. Each student will present her/his project to the class, and students in the seminar will be responsible for providing feedback and suggestions for each project.

MES 73500: Special Topics in Archaeology: Alexander to Mohammed (Crosslisted)

Professor Anna Akasoy
Wednesday, 4:15 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.

Classical Greek culture is often seen as an exclusively Western European heritage, its legacy as one of the West’s defining features. This course, taught in English translation, offers an introduction to the profound impact of Greek civilization in the Middle East and Asia and the cultural, political and economic dynamics behind this development, focusing on Alexander the Great as a historical figure and as a legend. We will begin with the conquests of Alexander the Great and his successor states and explore Hellenistic settlements in Central Asia and the Graeco-Buddhist art of Gandhara as an early example. We will then focus on examples from the medieval Middle East such as Greek art in the Umayyad ‘desert castles’, the translation of Greek philosophy and science into Arabic and subsequent development in both areas, the Alexander legend in the Qur’an and in Arabic and Persian biographies. Primary sources include visual as well as textual material. Recurrent themes in the scholarship we will be discussing include connected history, cultural exchanges and encounters, the transmission of knowledge, and issues of cultural heritage. One of the aims of this class is to explore possibilities for alternative narratives beyond the binaries of East and West.

MES 73900: Palestine under the Mandate

Professor Simon Davis
Monday, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

This course examines how and with what consequences British interests at the time of the First World War identified and pursued control over Palestine as an imperial objective, the subsequent forms such projections took, the crises which followed and their eventual consequences. Particular themes will be explored through analytical discussions of assigned historiographic materials, chiefly recent primary research-based journal literature.

MES 78000: Arabian Nights

Professor Anna Akasoy
Wednesday, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

This course offers an introduction to the history and literary features of the Arabian Nights as well as to its literary, visual and cinematic adaptations. For the purposes of this course, the Arabian Nights will be treated as an open corpus which continues to expand and transform in a variety of cultural contexts and formats. We will be reading stories from the Arabian Nights in different English translations and discuss a variety of academic publications, but also take into consideration modern creative interpretations, including examples from literature, the visual and cinematic arts, and theater. These comparative exercises will shed light on the continuing appeal of the Arabian Nights and assist us in contextualizing specific developments of the Nights within their respective historical environments. We will start by tracking the development of the text, beginning with the earliest stories and compilations in India and Persia, continuing with the first Arabic compilation in Iraq and expansions in Syria in the medieval period, proceeding with the introduction to western Europe by way of Galland’s early eighteenth-century French translation in the context of Orientalism, and concluding with the Arabian Nights as a global phenomenon.

We will discuss the institutional, intellectual and cultural circumstances which allowed for this transmission as well as account for different interpretations as well as literary works inspired by the Nights. After exploring formal elements of the Arabian Nights (such as the relationship between frame tale and embedded story, the significance of poetry, the classification of the Arabian Nights as fairy tales, and the element of performance and story-telling), we will focus on major themes in the Arabian Nights and their adaptations in modern literature (such as morality, religion, magic, and power). We will discuss the appeal of the character of Shahrazad, paying attention to psychoanalytical and feminist interpretations and conclude with a discussion of the Arabian Nights in illustrations, in film and on stage and the impact of different media on the manner the stories are told.

Fall 2019
Spring 2019
Fall 2018
Spring 2018
Fall 2017
Spring 2017
Fall 2016
Spring 2016
Fall 2015