This challenging program is an exploration of the time period known in western discourse as modernity. Modernity is understood primarily as a temporal category – one that is alternatively understood to begin with the Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution – but it is also a category that connotes a set of qualities and affects –secularization, citizenship, gender and sexuality equality, and above all, progress. What happens when we look at modernity from a non-western (which is to say, non-militarily and economically dominant) perspective? What happens to taken- -for-granted processes of secularization, citizenship, gender and sexuality equality, and progress?
This program will investigate this theme through the specific example of the fall of the Ottoman Empire (r. c. 1299-1922), and with it, the intensified encroachment of European colonialism in the Middle East and North Africa. In response to this seismic shift in eastern modernity, we will focus on the al-Nahda (Arab renaissance) movement that centered in Egypt but also included many voices from the Levant (especially greater Syria) and Iraq. The Nahda movement attempted to reconcile Arab/Islamic civilizational with the western through deep engagement with comparative philosophy, religion, ethics and linguistics. Whether the Muslim Brotherhood and the rise of political Islam can be considered part of the Nahda movement is a scholarly debate. We will consider this as well. In the end students will take a deep look at what it means for a culture to confront a deep civilizational paradigm shift. Specific areas of focus will, in part, be determined by student interests and research.
This is for students ready for rigorous work in history, comparative religion, and/or philosophy. Readings and writings will be plenty and deadlines will be strict. Students with previous work in religious studies, such as God(s): An Inquiry or the equivalent, will have a solid basis for asking questions of this material from the study of religion. This program will deepen their study of religion in modernity. This program will include an introductory, non-intensive Arabic language component.
Some program work in Middle Eastern or Islamic Studies is helpful but not required.