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Teaching the Middle East and Islam

Teaching the Middle East and Islam

New undergraduate courses in Anthropology, Arabic, Comparative Literature, and History

New approaches to the relations between the poetics and the politics of literatures and cultures

UCLA's instructional program in Middle East and Islamic Studies offers more than 100 courses in Winter 2008, among them a host of new undergraduate classes, including The Multilingual Arab Novel; Language, Media and Community in the Arab World; and Culture Area of the Maghreb.

"I am thrilled to report that the students are very enthusiastic about the material and quite compelled by its complexity," said Nouri Gana, the newly appointed faculty member in the Departments of Comparative Literature and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, about his new undergraduate course, Between Modernity and Empire: The Multilingual Arab Novel. In a span of ten weeks, students are exposed to an eclectic selection of Arab novels in the English original and in English translation from Arabic and French by, among others, Diana Abu-Jaber (English), Tahar Ben Jelloun (French), and Tayeb Salih (Arabic). The course aims to develop a fresh understanding of the Arab world as it is complexly represented by a number of Arab authors writing in different languages and living in different parts of the world, including the Middle East, Europe, and North America. Given that for the last two centuries the Arab world has succumbed to European imperialism and its revolutionizing effects on every aspect of life, the course pays particular attention to the ways in which Arab authors have dramatized and come to terms (if indeed they have) with the weight of the colonial legacy and the more urgent demands of and for globalization, modernity, modernization, and development. The course mixes thematic and formal analyses of literary texts, and also makes use of several documentary films in order to both approximate and complicate literary representation.

Nouri Gana

"What I wanted to do in this course is basically to take the novel as a genre and harbinger of Western modernity and see how Arab novelists appropriated and acculturated it into their largely poetry-oriented tradition, and at the same time deployed it to reconfigure the problematic of modernity and empire,” says Gana, a native of Tunisia who received his doctorate from the University of Montreal in 2004 and taught at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, before coming to UCLA. "This course allows me the opportunity to further explore and assess the intellectual history and contemporary significance of the novel as a genre in the Arab world. I am currently editing a collection of critical essays titled The Rise of the Arab Novel in English: The Politics of Anglo Arab and Arab American Literature and Culture, and I find myself almost impulsively drawn to tracing parallels and discrepancies between the Arab novel in Arabic, in French, and in English." Another book by Gana, tentatively titled Arab Melancholia: Toward an Affective Theory of Cultural Empowerment, is forthcoming.

In his teaching and research Gana covers the intersecting fields of modern and contemporary multilingual Arab literatures and cultures of North Africa and the Middle East; Arab popular music and film, comparative ethnic, Muslim, and Arab diaspora studies, and postcolonial and modernist comparative cultural studies. "I am open to doctoral projects in any of the above and related fields, but welcome in particular those that seek to elaborate new approaches to the relations between the poetics and the politics of literatures and cultures."

Language, Media and Community in the Arab World, taught in the Anthropology Department by postdoctoral fellow Sonali Pahwa, investigates the imagination of an "Arab world" by examining the role of the Arabic language in linking distant peoples, its dialogue with vernacular cultures, and the ways in which mass media have created new transnational cultural forms in Arabic. Pahwa earned her Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology at Columbia University in 2007 and is currently working on a book manuscript titled Staging Difference: Nation and Generation in Contemporary Egyptian Theater (she was culture journalist for the state-owned English-language Al-Ahram Weekly). Pahwa's areas of specialization include anthropology of performance, linguistic anthropology, transnational media, and the Arab world.

"The course I'm teaching this quarter connects with my dissertation and postdoctoral research, an ethnographic and sociolinguistic study of new-generation theater in Egypt. It also links up to my next planned project on the Arab satellite television network MBC, specifically its talk shows," says Pahwa. Beginning with a look at traditional speech genres in poetry, religious discourse, and performance, the course considers how programs for cultural and linguistic reform in modern Arab nations created new dialectics between textual and popular cultures. The primary focus is on the use of media in disseminating national culture, circulating minority voices, and reshaping circuits of cultural and religious authority through transnational authorship and reception. A range of topics is covered, from ethnography of verbal arts and the media and Islamic law to Islamic televangelism and satellite television (a course on Media Arabic is offered by the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department on a regular basis).

Culture Area of the Maghreb, taught by CNES director Susan Slyomovics (Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures), deals with North Africa, especially Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya (also known as the "Maghreb" or "Tamazgha"). The introductory course (cross-listed in Anthropology and History) focuses on the changing notions of personal, tribal, ethnic, linguistic, and religious identity; colonialism; gender and legal rights; changing representations of Islam; and religions in the region's public spaces. It builds on the Fall 2007 course on Modern North African History taught by Visiting Professor Lahouari Addi from the University of Lyon, France. Slyomovics' current research focuses on human rights in the context of Morocco and Algeria's reparations commissions and the French colonial infrastructure in North Africa. In Spring quarter she will be offering a course on The Thousand and One Nights (Alf Layla wa Layla), which was awarded a grant from the Office of Instructional Development to create the supplementary interactive website Teaching the Arabian Nights.

In the History Department, three new seminars are taught by advanced doctoral students under the rubric of "Introduction to Historical Practice: Variable Topics in Near Eastern History": The Contemporary Middle East and the Roots of September 11 (Shawki El-Zatmah); Spectacle for the Masses: Microhistorical Approaches to the Analysis of Royal Processions in the Nineteenth Century, with a special focus on the Russian and Ottoman Empires (Darin Stephanov); and Religion, the Piety of Empires, and the Politics of Conversion (Zeynep Turkyilmaz). Gabriel Piterberg is teaching a Fiat Lux freshman seminar on The 1948 Palestine War in Arabic and Hebrew Literature and an upper-division course on The Tradition of the Conscious Pariah: Hannah Arendt and Edward Said. Coverage of the modern Middle East is further enriched by survey and advanced historiography courses offered by James Gelvin.

Click the link below for a complete listing of Middle East and Islamic studies course offerings:

CNES Winter 2008 Course List

Center for Near Eastern Studies