Which Way to Mecca?

Posted by sepoy on August 30, 2004 · 3 mins read

One more notch in my procrastination belt, I finished the syllabus last night. The first class is tomorrow. What a sad man I am. I have to admit to some serious nervous activity but I pulled through in the end. Once, I had the class structure up, assigning the readings was a lot easier. It is making those tough calls that killed me. One week or two to pre-Islamic Arabia? 2 weeks or 3 on political history until the Ottomans? Science and Medicene AND Art and Architecture AND Philosophy and Theology? Or just one, or just two. And most importantly, Crusades OR Literature and Poetry.

In the end, I decided that I should settle the narrative that I want to present to the students and choose only things that serve that narrative directly. And here is the narrative I chose:

This course, then, should properly be titled, An Introduction to the History of Islamicate Societies, using Marshall Hodgson's formulation that underscores the distinction between Islam as a religion and as a cultural practice. As such, we will aim to understand the social and political forces that shaped the Islamicate polities. We shall do this by broadly combining political history with forays into cultural and intellectual history.

So, largely political history of the various regions and then specific thematic weeks on various aspects. Of course, medieval and pre-modern period is going to be the dominant one. I think there may be too much reading, though. I have assigned roughly 100 pages per week (between secondary and primary materials) which could be a lot for an undergrad class. If they rebel, I will cut back. Plus, they will have a class blog. Now, I really thought about it. Email listservs don't work at all. I have tried them. Forums are clunky and hard to manage and I had little luck getting people to post or respond. I could have all the same problems with a blog but, it is the least technically obtrusive option. Hey, it's all an experiment anyways. What the hell do I know about it all?

To start things off, I chose, Edward Said's piece from Harper's entitled, Impossible Histories: Why the many Islams cannot be simplified and Clifford Greetz's excellent review articles, Which way to Mecca? from NYT Book Review (I had to pay 4 dollars to get that online. Damn you, NYT). That should be a good start to introduce them to various approaches to the study of Islamic past (and present).

In the end, I feel that the syllabus is pretty damn good. Even, I would take that class. Which is all one can hope for. Syllabus are like the ultimate movie trailers. I loved getting clean, new syllabi as a student - so full of new information and promises ahead. I try to make mine like that - jovial, exciting. Then the crushing realities of never ending reading lists, and way overdue assignments set in. Happy Academic Year 2004-05!!!


Sharon | August 31, 2004

That sounds like just the coolest course (and a pretty damn cool teacher). I am really jealous of your students. I'm thinking of trying a class blog when I teach again next spring... Although I'm also trying not to think about teaching next spring...

sepoy | August 31, 2004

thanks :) i will be posting about my blog experiment as it unfolds...so stay tuned.