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Religious Traditions of the Middle East

Course Number
MODM 300 620
Course Code
Course Key
Akis, Yasemin
Primary Program
Course Note
Special session: 10/29/2020 to 12/22/2020
Course Description
Understanding the modern Middle East is almost impossible without first developing an appreciation for the importance of its diverse religious traditions, and the role that religion has played in the development of the region since antiquity. This course examines the many ways that religion has functioned in Middle Eastern societies, beginning with ancient, pre-Islamic practices, such as the Zoroastrian religion of the Persian Empire, the development of Judaism among the ancient Israelites, and the spread of Christianity in the eastern Roman Empire. Of special interest will be the rise of Islam in the seventh century, and the development of unique and localized Islamic traditions in the rapidly expanding Arab empires of the medieval period. The class will focus on such themes as the differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, the position of non-Muslim minorities in Islamic history and the different responses offered by Muslims to the challenge of western hegemony in predominantly Muslim lands. The class will conclude by looking closely at the many ways religion is practiced in the Middle East today, from the official secularism of states like Turkey, to the post-revolutionary religious politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to the complex relationship between Judaism and Zionism in Israel, to the special challenges faced by Christian and other minorities in places like Egypt or Lebanon.