MESAAS Courses Spring 2018

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-MESAAS)
  • CLME (Comparative Literature-MESAAS)
  • HSME (History-MESAAS)
  • ANME (Anthropology-MESAAS)



Nathanael Shelly Section 001

Lecture and recitation. No previous study of Islam is required. The contemporary Islamic world studied through freshly translated texts; recorded interviews with religious, political, and intellectual leaders; and films highlighting the main artistic and cultural currents. Topics include religion and society, religion, and politics, issues of development, theories of government, gender issues, East-West confrontation, theater, arts, films, poetry, music, and the short novel.

Ghandi 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.

Palestinian-Israeli Politics and SocietyMDES UN3042
Joseph A Massad Section 001

This course covers the history of Zionism in the wake of the Haskala in mid nineteenth century Europe and its development at the turn of the century through the current "peace process" between the state of Israel and the Palestinian national movement. The course examines the impact of Zionism on European Jews and on Asian and African Jews on the one hand, and on Palestinian Arabs on the other --in Israel, in the Occupied Territories, and in the Diaspora.

Major Texts of the Middle East & IndiaAHUM UN3399
Allison Busch 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

A History of African CitiesMDES UN3915
Mamadou Diouf Section 001

This seminar offers an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the history of African cities. It cuts across disciplinary boundaries of history, geography, anthropology, political and cultural sociology, literature and cultural studies, to explore the various trajectories of urbanization on the continent.

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
Kai Kresse 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.

The Novel in AfricaMDES GU4122
Jennifer Wenzel Section 001

The main task of this course will be to read novels by African writers. But "the novel in Africa" also involves connections between the literary genre of the novel and the historical processes of colonialism, decolonization, and globalization in Africa. One important question we'll consider is how African novels depict those historical experiences in their themes and plots—we'll read novels that are "about" colonialism, etc. A more complex question is how these historical processes relate to the emergence of the novel as an important genre for African writers. Edward Said went so far as to say that without imperialism, there would be no European novel as we know it. How can we understand the novel in Africa (whether read or written) as a product of the colonial encounter? How did it shape the process of decolonization? What contribution to history, whether literary or political, does the novel in Africa make? We'll undertake a historical survey of African novels from the 1930s to the present, with attention to various subgenres (village novel, war novel, urbanization novel, novel of postcolonial disillusion, Bildungsroman). We'll attend to how African novelists blend literate and oral storytelling traditions, how they address their work to local and global audiences, and how they use scenes of characters reading novels (whether African or European) in order to position their writing within national, continental, and world literary space.

Introduction to African PhilosophyMDES GU4150
Kai Kresse Section 001

In seminar discussions, we will be covering key readings in African Philosophy, following how this field of research and academic debate has emerged, progressed and become more sub differentiated in the 20th and early 21 st century. While the main task set here is to understand the essential readings of the debate about African philosophy as it has been led by academic African philosophers, in the second part of the semester, we will pick up in an interdisciplinary manner on open questions and fields for further research that have been identified. For instance, in addressing questions of how to approach (document, qualify, understand) traditions of oral and written philosophical discourse as part of long-standing regional (and trans-regional) intellectual histories, expressed in African languages, we involve knowledge in linguistics, history, anthropology and religion.

Readings in Hebrew TextsMDES GU4502
Naama Harel Section 001

Prerequisites: MDES W4501 or the instructor's permission. Students must have a good familiarity with the Hebrew verb system, and the ability to read a text without vowels. This course focuses on central identities shaping Israeli society and is designed to give students extensive experience in reading Hebrew. Through selected readings of contemporary literary works and media texts, students will increase their proficiency in Hebrew and enhance their understanding of Israeli culture and society. All readings, written assignments, and class discussions are in Hebrew. No P/D/F or R credit is allowed for this class.

Politics in IndiaMDES GU4601
Sudipta Kaviraj Section 001

This course will combine study of long-term historical sociology with more short term understanding of policies and their possible effects. Though its main purpose will be to provide students with an understanding of politics after independence, it will argue, methodologically, that this understanding should be based on a study of historical sociology – plotting long-terms shifts in the structure of social power. The course will start with analyses of the structures of power and ideas about political legitimacy in pre-modern India, and the transformations brought by colonialism into that order. After a brief study of the nature of political order under the colonial state, the courses will focus primarily on the history of the democratic state after independence.

Readings in Hindi Literature IIMDES GU4626
Allison Busch Section 001

Prerequisites: MDES W1613 or the instructor's permission. The course introduces students to the riches of the classical Hindi tradition. We read bhakti and Sufi literature in tandem, with a special interest in Tulsidas and the Indo-Islamic romance. No P/D/F or R credit is allowed for this class.

Readings in TheoryMDES GU4611
Gil Anidjar Section 001

This reading-intensive course will engage, over time with essential texts of the current critical canon. Offered over a series of semester, it is aimed at developing a practice of reading: close or distant, and always attentive. Let us say: slow reading. What does it mean to read? Where and when does reading start? Where does it founder? What does reading this author (Freud, for example) or that author (say, Foucault) do to the practice of reading? Can we read without misreading? Can we read for content or information without missing the essential? Is there such a thing as essential reading? Favoring a demanding and strenuous exposure to the text at hand, this course promises just that: a demanding and strenuous exposure to reading. The course can be repeated for credit.

Readings in Urdu Literature IIMDES GU4636
Aftab Ahmad Section 001

Prerequisites: two years of prior coursework in Hindi-Urdu (MDES W1612 & MDES W1613), one year of Urdu for Heritage Speakers (MDES W1614 & MDES W1615), or the instructor's permission. This course is a literary course, with in-depth exposure to some of the finest works of classical and modern Urdu prose and poetry. In the fall semester, our focus will be on some of the most famous Urdu short stories while, in the spring semester, we will focus on various genres of Urdu poetry. The content may change each semester. This course is open to both undergraduates and graduates. No P/D/F or R credit is allowed for this class.

Cinema and Colonialism in South AsiaMDES GU4637
Debashree Mukherjee Section 001

What is the relation between cinema and colonialism? This seminar approaches cinema as a dynamic historical agent that aided, negotiated, refracted, and contested the mechanisms and meanings of colonialism in South Asia. We will study cinema as technology, as industry, and as cultural form, paying attention to questions of film finance, on-screen representation, production infrastructures, circuits of distribution, and sites of exhibition. We will watch films made by British ethnographers, Indian expats, Hollywood orientalists, and South Asian nationalists to study how film served as a key weapon of imperial propaganda as well as anticolonial resistance. From orientalist films that constructed the colony as exotic and dangerous, to the spatial uses of Indian films to reinforce race inequalities in the diaspora (eg. East Africa), cinema is deeply imbricated with colonial strategies of racial, gendered, and caste-based othering. This is a history of cinema as a history of empire; where cinema is not just a text to be read but a cultural, industrial, and social network of power relations.

Iran: Film, Fiction, Poetry HistoryMDES GU4733
Hamid Dabashi Section 001

Through varied exposure to Iranian film and fiction, and Persian poetry, this course is designed to introduce students to critical themes and creative effervescence of modern Iranian culture. The course will concentrate on Iranian cultural history of the last two centuries, with particular emphasis on contemporary issues.

Readings in Ottoman Texts IIMDES GU4927
Zuleyha Colak Section 001

Prerequisites: Elementary Ottoman Turkish. This course deals with authentic Ottoman texts from the early 18th and 19th centuries. The class uses Turkish as the primary language for instruction, and students are expected to translate assigned texts into Turkish or English. A reading packet will include various authentic archival materials in rika, talik and divani styles. Whenever possible, students will be given texts that are related to their areas of interest. Various writing styles will be dealt with on Ottoman literature, history, and archival documents. No P/D/F or R credit is allowed for this class.

Theory and Methods IMDES GR5000
Timothy Mitchell 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
Sudipta Kaviraj 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.

Readings in Modern Islamic TextsMDES GR6235
Wael Hallaq Section 001

Prerequisites: proficiency in reading advanced Arabic. This seminar is conducted entirely in the original Arabic writings of the Moroccan philosopher Taha Abdurrahman. Having recently emerged as the premier moral philosopher of the Muslim world, Abdurrahman requires an attentive reading in light of the intellectual, historical and cultural constructions of the modern Islamic world, on the one hand, and Western moral and political conceptions, on the other. The seminar attempts to assess Abdurrahman’s critique of modernity as one that integrates the intellectual productions of Islamic history as serious contributions to modernity’s critiques currently placed on Western academic tables. On a wider scale, and through an examination of this philosopher’s work, this seminar also aims to bring the modern Islamic tradition into dialogue with the relevant questions and debates now animating modern moral philosophy (and to a lesser extent political theory, law and philosophy at large). Please note, this course must be taken for a letter grade.

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.



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