Fall 2019 MESAAS Courses

This information is subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, please visit the Registrar's Directory of Classes.

Note that enrollment in language courses is determined in some cases by placement examinations. See Languages for details, and consult the pages on specific languages, such as Arabic for further information. Language courses must be taken for a letter grade. Pass/Fail or Registration credit (R) is not permitted.

For course requirements, see the pages on the Graduate and Undergraduate programs.

Course Numbering System

  • 1000 and 2000: Undergraduate-level courses. Introductory and intermediate language courses are numbered at the 1000 level.
  • 3000: Advanced undergraduate courses.
  • 4000: Courses for graduate students and, in some cases, advanced undergraduates.
  • 6000 and higher: Graduate-level courses; some 8000- and 9000-level courses are reserved for Ph.D. students only.

The following course designators appear in abbreviated form:

  • MDES (Designator for all MESAAS courses that are not cross listed)
  • AHUM (Asian Humanities)
  • ASCM (Asian Civilizations-Middle East)
  • CLME (Comparative Literature-Middle East)
  • HSME (History-Middle East)
  • ANME (Anthropology of Middle East)


Colloquium on Major TextsAHUM UN1399
Elaine Van Dalen Section 001

Readings in translation and discussion of texts of Middle Eastern and Indian origin. Readings may include the Qur'an, Islamic philosophy, Sufi poetry, the Upanishads, Buddhist sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, Indian epics and drama, and Gandhi's Autobiography.

Introduction to Islamic CivilizationASCM UN2003
TBA Section 001

Lecture and recitation. Islamic civilization and its characteristic intellectual, political, social, and cultural traditions up through 1800.

Gandhi and his InterlocutorsMDES UN2650
Sudipta Kaviraj Section 001

Gandhi is in two senses an extraordinary figure: he was the most important leader of anti-imperialist movements in the twentieth century; yet, his ideas about modernity, the state, the industrial economy, technology, humanity’s place in nature, the presence of God – were all highly idiosyncratic, sometimes at odds with the main trends of modern civilization. How did a man with such views come to have such an immense effect on history? In some ways, Gandhi is an excellent entry into the complex history of modern India – its contradictions, achievements, failures, possibilities. This course will be primarily a course on social theory, focusing on texts and discursive exchanges between various perceptions of modernity in India. It will have two parts: the first part will be based on reading Gandhi’s own writings; the second, on the writings of his main interlocutors. It is hoped that through these exchanges students will get a vivid picture of the intellectual ferment in modern India, and the main lines of social and political thought that define its intellectual culture. The study in this course can be followed up by taking related courses in Indian political thought, or Indian politics or modern history. This course may not be taken as Pass/D/Fail.

Africa Before ColonialismHSME UN2915
Mamadou Diouf Section 001

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of the precolonial history of the African continent. It investigates in-depth the political, social, cultural and economic developments of different Africa communities, covering various regions and periods, from prehistory to the formation of the Indian Ocean and Atlantic worlds. Its focus is the intersection of politics, economics, culture and society. Using world history and Africa’s location in the production of history as key analytical frames, it pays special attention to social, political and cultural changes that shaped the various individual and collective experiences of African peoples and states and the historical discourses associated to them.

Theory and CultureMDES UN3000
Gil Hochberg Section 001

Required of all majors. Introduces theories of culture particularly related to the Middle East, South Asia. and Africa. Theoretical debates on the nature and function of culture as a symbolic reading of human collectivities. Examines critical cultural studies of the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. Enables students to articulate their emerging knowledge of Middle East, South Asian, and African cultures in a theoretically informed language.

Religion in Modern South AsiaMDES UN3046
Sayori Ghoshal Section 001

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.

Cannabis & Culture: Hashish,Law, and Social History in EgyptMDES UN3263
Ibrahim K El Houdaiby Section 001

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?

Societies and Cultures across the Indian OceanMDES UN3445
Mana Kia Section 001

The course is designed to introduce the Indian Ocean as a region linking the Middle East, East Africa, South and Southeast Asia. With a focus on both continuities and rupture from the medieval to the modern period, we study select cultures and societies brought into contact through interregional migration and travel from the 10th to 20th centuries. Different types of people - nobles, merchants, soldiers, statesmen, sailors, scholars, slaves - experienced mobility in different ways. How did different groups of people represent such mobilities? What kinds of cooperation, accommodation or conflict did different Indian Ocean encounters engender? Using an array of different primary sources, we look at particular case studies and their broader social and cultural contexts.

Visual Cultures of Modern South AsiaMDES UN3644
Debashree Mukherjee Section 001

This lecture course introduces students to the power and meaning of popular visual cultures of South Asia. Visual culture is a crucial arena for the enactment of social transformations and the creation of collective imaginaries. We will track such varied modern media types as calendar art, photography, film, architecture, clothing, and religious festivals, loosely following key chronological signposts in the shared histories of the subcontinent. Together, we will practice a new way of understanding history and society – a visual way that will make us aware of the diversity of hopes, fears, and dreams that comprise South Asia. Designed for students with a basic understanding of South Asian history, the course aims to familiarize you with key methodological approaches in visual culture studies and current debates in South Asian art history and media theory.

Contemporary Culture in the Arab WorldMDES UN3920
Joseph A Massad Section 001

Prerequisites: the instructor's permission. This seminar, designed for seniors, aims to acquaint students with the notion and theoretical understanding of culture and to introduce them to a critical method by which they can study and appreciate contemporary culture in the Arab World. The seminar will survey examples of written and cinematic culture (fiction and autobiography), as well as music, dance, and literary criticism in the contemporary Arab world. Students will be reading novels, autobiographies and literary criticism, as well as watch films and listen to music as part of the syllabus. All material will be in translation. Films will be subtitled. Songs will be in Arabic.

Central Questions in Islamic LawMDES UN3923
Wael Hallaq Section 001

Through detailed discussions of certain landmarks in Islamic legal history (e.g., origins; early formation; sources of law; intellectual make-up; the workings of court; legal change; women in the law; legal effects of colonialism; modernity and legal reform, etc.), the course aims at providing an introductory but integrated view of Islamic law, a definition, so to speak, of what it was/is. Please note, this course must be taken for a letter grade.

Honors Thesis SeminarMDES UN3960
Timothy Mitchell Section 001

Prerequisites: minimum GPA of 3.5 in MESAAS courses. The MESAAS honors seminar offers students the opportunity to undertake a sustained research project under close faculty supervision. The DUS advises on general issues of project design, format, approach, general research methodologies, and timetable. In addition, students work with an individual advisor who has expertise in the area of the thesis and can advise on the specifics of method and content. The thesis will be jointly evaluated by the adviser, the DUS, and the honors thesis TA. The DUS will lead students through a variety of exercises that are directly geared to facilitating the thesis. Students build their research, interpretive, and writing skills; discuss methodological approaches; write an annotated bibliography; learn to give constructive feedback to peers and respond to feedback effectively. The final product is a polished research paper in the range of 40-60 pages. Please note: This is a one-year course that begins in the fall semester (1 point) and continues through the spring semester (3 points). Only students who have completed both semesters will receive the full 4 points of credit.

Major Debates in the Study of AfricaMDES GU4160
Mahmood Mamdani Section 001

Sufism: Primary Texts/ContextsCLME GU4241
Muhsin Al-Musawi Section 001

This course studies Sufism as it has emerged, developed, and assumed its presence in Sufi autobiographies and religious and literary writings. The Sufi Path is traced in these writings that include poems like ibn al-Farid’s Poem of the Way. Sufi States and Stations are analyzed to understand this Path that reaches its culmination in an ecstatic sense of Oneness. Sufism is also a social and political phenomenon that unsettles formal theologies and involves Sufis in controversies that often end with their imprisonment and death.

Themes in the Arabic NovelCLME GU4262
Sarah bin Tyeer Section 001

The focus of this seminar will be novels by Arab writers. The course will explore the history of the Arabic novel: its rise, development, and evolution. We will read and analyze novels belonging to various periods in Arab history and representing diverse points of views, including gender, identities, and different sub-cultures and sub-genres. We will look into the connections therein between the novel and the historical backdrops of colonialism, decolonization, globalization, war, rights and personal independence from several perspectives and writers across the Arab world. We will also consider the modern Arabic novel’s engagement with the global, glocal, and local as well as its nod to the Arabic literary tradition; its engagement with technology, scientific progress, absurdity, loss, trauma, the human condition, as well as dystopic themes. No knowledge of Arabic is required.

War, Internment, and IncarcerationMDES GU4349
Khatchig Mouradian Section 001

Forcibly moving civilians to designated areas as a wartime measure has constituted a widely practiced military strategy for centuries. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, colonial powers increasingly provided more structure and organization to these policies of relocation and internment in the Americas, Africa, and East Asia. This course provides a social history of civilian internment and mass murder from late-19th century colonial cases to World War II. Through case studies of the Spanish-Cuban war, the South African War, the Philippines-American War, the genocide of the Herrero and Nama in Southwest Africa, the Armenian Genocide, and the Holocaust, the course traces the evolution of the concentration camp from a counter-insurgency strategy in wartime to a weapon of mass murder. The course also examines the internment of Japanese Americans, and the Japanese “comfort stations” in comparative perspective.

Apologies and Non-ApologiesMDES GU4358
Khatchig Mouradian Section 001

Why do we apologize? What are the elements of an effective apology? When is an apology not an apology? Can resentment and unforgiveness be a virtue? We will tackle these questions by delving into research in the fields of history, sociology, linguistics, philosophy, political science, and clinical and social psychology. Students will analyze texts, audio, and video of apologies offered by governments, political leaders, and other public figures, ascertaining their weaknesses and strengths, and their reception by various parties. Students will also analyze apologies and their manifestation in the media, public discourse, and literary works (memoirs, poetry, novels, and parables). After tackling interpersonal and collective apologies (and non-apologies), the course delves into literature that responds to these apologies, tackling issues of forgiveness, unforgiveness, and (re)conciliation.

A History of Modern PakistanMDES GU4653
S. Akbar Zaidi Section 001

This course is designed for undergraduate students to be a survey course of modern Pakistani history from 1947 to the present. The course will examine the six "eras" that help define Pakistan's history, and will highlight political, economic and institutional developments. The completion of this course should prepare students for further and more advanced work on South Asia.

Theory and Methods IMDES GR5000
Sudipta Kaviraj Section 001

This course will be the first part of a two part introduction to theoretical approaches to modern social science and cultural studies in Asian and African contexts. The first course will focus primarily on methodological and theoretical problems in the fields broadly described as historical social sciences - which study historical trends, and political, economic and social institutions and processes. The course will start with discussions regarding the origins of the modern social sciences and the disputes about the nature of social science knowledge. In the next section it will focus on definitions and debates about the concept of modernity. It will go on to analyses of some fundamental concepts used in modern social and historical analyses: concepts of social action, political concepts like state, power, hegemony, democracy, nationalism; economic concepts like the economy, labor, market, capitalism, and related concepts of secularity/secularism, representation, and identity. The teaching will be primarily through close reading of set texts, followed by a discussion. A primary concern of the course will be to think about problems specific to the societies studied by scholars of Asia and Africa: how to use a conceptual language originally stemming from reflection on European modernity in thinking about societies which have quite different historical and cultural characteristics.

MESAAS Research ColloquiumMDES GR6008
Gil Hochberg Section 001

This course provides a structured setting for stand-alone M.A. students in their final year and Ph.D. students in their second and third years to develop their research trajectories in a way that complements normal coursework. The seminar meets approximately biweekly and focuses on topics such as research methodology; project design; literature review, including bibliographies and citation practices; grant writing. Required for MESAAS graduate students in their second and third year.

Nationalism in the Middle East as Idea and PractiseMDES GR6031
Joseph A Massad Section 001

Intends to familiarize students with the most recent theories dealing with nationalism from a variety of angles and perspectives.

Islamic Law Through TextsMDES GR6232
Wael Hallaq Section 001

Prerequisites: Proficiency in Arabic required. This graduate seminar is conducted entirely in Arabic sources. We will read various passages from the Qur’an in order to highlight the Qur’an’s moral imperatives about “living in” nature as well as about the generation of wealth and its distribution within the social order. We will then move on to examine the genre of fiqh (substantive law) with regard to the same themes, examining the moral structures of society in terms of the ethic of “spending.” Themes such as “making money,” building capital, charity, welfare, etc. will be examined in depth as constituting a system of checks-and-balances, through close readings of the concepts of kasb, zakat, sadaqa, waqf, etc.

Media MaterialismsMDES GR6631
Debashree Mukherjee Section 001

This graduate seminar offers a survey of debates on materiality and object-oriented ontologies that are currently revitalizing the humanities and social sciences. How does the physical world of objects and things affect our social and perceptual reality? Is it possible to imagine a world with the non-human at its center? Should we learn to study a “thing in itself” or is it better to approach matter as always-already entangled in networks and relations? In this interdisciplinary seminar we will keep media objects and contexts at the center of our study and travel through a long history of critical interest in materialism. The seminar begins with foundational debates from Marx to McLuhan and gradually moves through modules on materialism as understood vis-a-vis things, actors, relations, bodies, images, infrastructures, aesthetics, and ecologies. Weekly sessions combine historical and philosophical approaches to media forms and their material lives. A special emphasis is placed on complicating dominant disciplinary frameworks with theories and case studies from the South and insights from feminist theory. This is an interdisciplinary weekly course that will be relevant to students interested in media, film, cultural history, material culture, object histories, infrastructure studies, and environmental humanities.

Dissertation ColloquiumMDES GR8008
Mamadou Diouf Section 001

The dissertation colloquium is a non-credit course open to MESAAS doctoral students who have completed the M.Phil. degree. It provides a forum in which the entire community of dissertation writers meets, bridging the department's different fields and regions of research. It complements workshops outside the department focused on one area or theme. Through an encounter with the diversity of research underway in MESAAS, participants learn to engage with work anchored in different regions and disciplines and discover or develop what is common in the department's post-disciplinary methods of inquiry. Since the community is relatively small, it is expected that all post-M.Phil. students in residence will join the colloquium. Post M.Phil. students from other departments may request permission to join the colloquium, but places for non-MESAAS students will be limited. The colloquium convenes every semester, meeting once every two weeks. Each meeting is devoted to the discussion of one or two pre-circulated pieces of work (a draft prospectus or dissertation chapter). Every participant contributes at least one piece of work each year.

Advanced Topics: Significant OthersWMST GR8010
Mana Kia Section 001

What is the relationship between homoeroticism and homosociality?How does this relationship form conceptions of gender and sexuality in ways that might be historically unfamiliar and culturally or regionally specific?We pursue these questions through the lens of friendship and its relationship to ideas and expressions of desire, love, and loyalty in pre-modern times.We begin by considering the intellectual basis of the modern idea of friendship as a private, personal relationship, and trace it back to earlier times when it was often a public relationship of social and political significance.Some of these relationships were between social equals, while many were unequal forms (like patronage) that could bridge social, political or parochial differences.Thinking through the relationships and possible distinctions between erotic love, romantic love and amity (love between friends), we will draw on scholarly works from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, particularly philosophy, sociology, political theory, literature, history, and art history.We will attend to friendship’s work in constituting, maintaining and challenging various social and political orders in a variety of Asian contexts (West, Central, South and East Asian), with reference to scholarship on European contexts.Primary source materials will include philosophy, religious manuals, autobiographies, popular love stories, heroic epics, mystical poetry, mirror for princes, paintings, material objects of exchange, and architectural monuments.



For the most up-to-date information, please visit the Registrar's Directory of Classes.