World Cultures Middle East Research Paper


¶ … Middle East comprises a diverse group of regions, countries, peoples, customs, and cultures. On the one hand, it is daunting to offer a semester-long course that treats all Middle Eastern issues with clarity and fairness. The risk of oversimplification, however, is outweighed by the risk of ignorance. This course will explore the Middle East with as much depth and breadth as possible, stimulating student thought on political, social, religious, historical, ethnographic, and economic issues related to the region. Included in the course rubric will be current events ranging from gender issues to terrorism. In between the heavier topics, lighter lessons on local customs, culture, music, and food will reveal the ordinariness of daily life in the part of the world we call the Middle East. Islam will be covered from a multidisciplinary perspective, allowing for nuanced and rich class discussions about the unique interface between politics, religion, and social norms. Drawing from primary and secondary sources as well as core textbooks, the course offers an in-depth and challenging overview of this complex region. As a result, students will develop their creative and critical thinking skills that can be applied to other geographic areas.

The following textbooks will serve as general course readers:

1. Abrahamian, Ervand

2008 A History of Modern Iran. New York: Cambridge University Press

2. Esposito, John

2005 Islam: The Straight Path. New York: Oxford University Press

3. Hourani, Albert

1992 A History of the Arab Peoples. New York: Warner

Each of these texts offers a broad, unbiased, and multidisciplinary scholarly perspective on certain key subjects. However, these texts do not cover everything. Throughout the course, specific reading assignments will be culled from other sources. Excerpts from those sources will be placed on the Blackboard. Multimedia content will be viewed in class or available on the Blackboard.

I. What/where is the Middle East? What about non-Arab countries like Iran and Turkey? Is the Middle East defined by the presence of Islam? Then what about Israel? Why Morocco and not Afghanistan?

It is important to define the Middle East, because it is not a distinct geographic region. It could easily be limited to the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula, but it is not. Students should be able to qualify what "Middle Eastern" means.

Lecture and Discussion: Defining and mapping the Middle East.

"Crossing the Bridge" a documentary by Fatih Akin

II. History in Nutshell

Across one or two class periods, lectures will address the key historical turning points in Middle Eastern history. This is not a history class, though, so coverage will be broad. Students need a general overview of why the Middle East is the way it is today.


A. Ancient history to Muhammad

B. Muhammad to Ottoman Empire

C. European colonization

D. Rise, fall, and current state of Arab nationalism


Hourani, Albert, "A History of the Arab Peoples," Part IV, pp 263-349

Hourani, Albert, "A History of the Arab Peoples." Part V, pp 351-458

Ochsenwald, Sydney Nettleton Fisher. McGraw-Hill, 2010.

IIb. History of Islam: Understanding the Sunni-Shi'a Division

Any course on the Middle East must address the causes and effects of the Sunni-Shia division. Students will understand the basic reasons for the division, as well as understand the geographic and cultural implications thereof.

Lecture: What is the difference between Sunni and Shi'a? Why does it exist and how does the difference correspond with geography and culture?


Excerpts from: Esposito, John

2005 Islam: The Straight Path. New York: Oxford University Press

Multimedia: Shuster, Mike. "The Origins of the Shia-Sunni Split." NPR. Radio Broadcast available online:

III. Regional Differences

One of the risks of teaching a class on a region as diverse as the Middle East is blurring distinctions between the various cultures and countries that make up the area. This series of lectures will help to clarify differences between regions and their countries, as well as between ethnic minorities and majorities within individual countries.

Lecture: The diversity of people and cultures covered. Linguistic diversity. Nationalism.

A. The Magreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia Egypt)

Bensmaia, Reda. Experimental Nations.

Danielson, Virginia. Voice of Egypt: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the 20th Century. pp. TBA (PDF)

B. The Levant: Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan

Harris, William. "The Strategic Geography of the Levant." Chapter 1 in The Levant: A Fractured Mosaic. Markus Weiner, 2008.

C. From Mesopotamia and Babylon to Iran and Iraq

Abrahamian, Ervand. A Modern History of Iran, pp. 1-62 and pp. 155-196.

Batatu, Hanna. The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movement in Iraq. Saqi Books, 2004.

Tripp, Charles. A History of Iraq. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

D. Turkey

Esra Ozyurek. "Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey," pp. 1-92 and pp. 151-182 (PDF)

E. The Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the Emirates)

Zahlan, Rosemarie Said. The Making of the Modern Gulf States: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates.

F. Transnational minorities and liminal peoples: Kurds, Bedouins, and Druze

Abu-Lughod, Lila. "The Romance...


"The Druze." Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved online:
Blum, Stephen and Amir Hassanpour. 1996 "The morning of freedom rose up': Kurdish popular song and the exigencies of cultural survival." Popular Music 15(3). (PDF)

Grossman, Alan and A ine O'Brien. 2006. "Kurdish Lyrical Protest: The Terrain

of Acoustic Migration," Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies Vol. 32, No. 2, March 2006, pp. 271_/289 (PDF)

IV. Modern Arab life and culture: literature, music, food, film, and the arts

The Middle East is not just about war, turmoil, and religion. The area is filled with millions of people who live normal lives. They go to school, they eat, they go to parties, and they create and consume art. This section of the course focuses on the culture of the Middle East, focusing on a few select regions and art forms including food.

Lecture: Ordinary and extraordinary life in the Middle East: from food to fine art

A. Literature

Selected readings from "Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East" edited by Reza Aslan (PDF)

B. Film

A Separation. {Feature Film, Iran}

Halfaouine: Boy of the Terraces. {Feature Film, Tunisia, 1990}

C. Music

Sound Samples from the National Geographic World Music Website:

D. Food, Drink, and Daily Life

Anthony Bourdain "Beirut" No Reservations

E. Visual art

Eigner, Saeb. Art of the Middle East: Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World and Iran. Merrell.

V. As Seen On…External Media Representations of the Middle East and the modern Middle Eastern media

It is important to discern media representations of the Middle East from reality. This is as true of internal media organizations as it is for external ones. The mystique of "orientalism," and the critique of gender norms are all influenced by media representations. This section covers issues related to the "self" and the "other" in Middle Eastern studies.


A. As "other"

B. Self-perceptions

C. Al-Jazeera and other local and regional media moguls; their influence on local politics


Said, Edward, "Orientalism," New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Introduction (PDF)

Lockman, Zachary, "Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism," New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp 182-214 (PDF)

Mamdani, Mahmoud, "Good Muslims, Bad Muslims: A Political Perspective on Culture and Terrorism," American Anthropologist 104(3), 2002, pp 766-775 (PDF)

Noujaim, Jehane. Control Room. {Feature Film Documentary, Qatar}

VII. Israel, Palestine, Nuclear Iran, and Terrorism

While it would be nice not to have to include this unit, unfortunately the politics of the Middle East have a heavy influence on life throughout the region and the world. This course provides an overview of the two most pressing issues in the Middle East: the Arab-Israeli conflict and the nuclear intentions of Iran.

Lecture: The Israel-Palestine Conflict, Oversimplified

Lecture: Checks and Balances: What Nuclear Iran Means for the Region and the World


Abu-Lughod, Lila, "Return to Half-Ruins, Memory, Postmemory, and Living History in Palestine," in Sa'di, Ahmed and Lila Abu-Lughod (eds.) "Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory," New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, pp 77-103 (PDF)

Inbar, Efraim. "The Need to Block a Nuclear Iran," Meria. PDF Retrieved:

Posen, Barry R. "We Can Live with a Nuclear Iran." MIT Center for International Studies. March 2006. PDF retrieved online:

Smith, Charles. 2009. "Chapter 4: World War II and the Creation of the State of Israel," in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict pp 165-222 (PDF).

Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, by David Shipler (Penguin, 1987).

VIII. Women, Gender, Sexuality, Sexual orientation

Lecture and discussion: The problems with cultural and ethical relativism with regards to issues like gender and sexuality; how to approach matters of gender and sexuality in ways that create open dialogue.

Abu-Lughod, Lila, "Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others," American Anthropologist, 104(3), 2002, pp 783-790. (PDF)

Ahmed Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. Yale University Press, 2008.

Choukri, Mohamed, "For Bread Alone," Read the entire book (PDF)

Doubleday, Veronica. 1999. "The Frame Drum in the Middle East: Women, Musical Instruments and Power." Ethnomusicology 43(1). (PDF)

Dunne, Bruce. "Power and Sexuality in the Middle East." Middle East Report. No. 206.

Massad, Joseph, "Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World" in Public Culture, 14(2), 2002, pp 361-385 (PDF)

Moghadam, Valentine, "Islamic Feminism and Its Discontent: Toward a Resolution of the Debate," Signs, 27(4), 2002, pp 1135-1171. (PDF)

Film "Dishing Democracy- Kalam Nawaeem"

IX. Economic Issues

The economy of the region has a huge influence on its domestic and foreign…

Sources Used in Documents:

Anderson, Lisa. "Demystifying the Arab Spring." PDF Available:

Henry, Clement Moore and Springborg, Robert. Globalization and the Politics of Development in the Middle East. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Kuran, Timur. "The Islamic Commercial Crisis: Institutional Roots of Economic Underdevelopment in the Middle East." The Journal of Economic History (2003), 63(2).

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