Near Eastern Humanities

HUM 247 / NES 247

Near Eastern Humanities I: From Antiquity to Islam

This course focuses on the Near East from antiquity to the early centuries of Islam. It introduces some of the most important works of literature, politics, ethics, aesthetics, religion, and science which emerged from this pivotal period of history.

Often, the cultural contributions of the Near East are viewed through a western lens, that is to say, in terms of the ‘contribution’ made by Near Eastern cultures to those that flourished in other parts of the world, particularly Europe. Those contributions were, indeed, immense and long lasting (just to quote an example: we still divide time into 60 seconds and 60 minutes because of the work that ancient Babylonian astronomers carried out): this course focuses on the original context from which they emanated.

We ask how, why, and to what ends the Near East sustained such a long period of high humanistic achievement, from Pharaonic Egypt to Islamic Iran, which in turn formed the basis of the high culture of the following millennium.  

Sample Readings:

Religious Texts: Enuma Elish, Hebrew Bible, Avesta, New Testament, Babylonian Talmud, Qurʾan

Visual Art and Material Culture: Pharaonic sculpture, Mesopotamian stele, Jewish magic bowls, Arabic rock inscriptions, Umayyad palace at Qusayr `Amra

Literature: Epic of Gilgamesh, Tale of Khusraw and the Page, War Songs of `Antara bin Shaddad, al-Jahiz’s In Praise of Books

Scientific and Philosophical Texts: Babylonian Astronomical Diaries, Enneads of Plotinus, Book of Thousands of Abu Ma`shar

Historical Texts: Behistun inscription of Darius I, Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, Letters of the Umayyad Caliphs, History of the Prophets and Kings of al-Tabari

View this course on the Registrar’s website.

HUM 248 / NES 248

Near Eastern Humanities II: Medieval to Modern Thought and Culture 

This course introduces students to Near Eastern societies and cultures over the last one thousand years. Students will gain an understanding of the historical and political changes that took place in a region that stretches from Andalusia to the Indus valley, from a few centuries after the rise of Islam up to the modern age. We will explore the diverse religious, ethnic, linguistic and ultimately national communities that lived and continue to live in this region. Reading translations of works written originally in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew, students will gain an appreciation of the vastness, interconnectedness, and complexity of the humanistic production of the region.

Sample Readings:

Al-Ghazali, Path to Sufism

Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Ibn Battuta

Tayyeb Saleh, Season of Migration to the North

The Book of Dede Korkut

Mustafa Ali, The Ottoman Gentleman of the Sixteenth Century: Mustafa Ali’s Tables of Delicacies Concerning the Rules of Social Gatherings

Ahmet Karamustafa, “Sarı Saltık Becomes a Friend of God,” in Tales of God’s Friends: Islamic Hagiography in Translation

Visit this course on the Registrar’s website.


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