Current events have brought the Islamic religion and its putative supporters to
the headlines of the daily media, usually in ways that emphasize the
Arab-Israeli conflict and/or the equally painful results of terrorist acts and
smart bombs. The task of bringing knowledge of Islam to a broad non-Islamic
public requires more than news items or political rhetoric; rather, it demands
serious and fair reading of the primary sources of the religion and its
attendant cultures, as well as appreciation of the rich diversity within dar
al-Islam (the world of Islam) and the centuries of internal conflict and
controversy among intellectuals, poets, and other men of God.
In recent centuries, followers of the Islamic faith, as those of other literate, manuscript traditions rooted in the teachings of one or another prophet or thinker presuming to speak for God(s) or man, have been challenged by forces collectively identified by the slippery concept of modernity. As a result of these forces—epistemological, above all, but technological, social, economic, and political as well—disenchantment, disequilibrium, and displacement abound globally, not least in those regions long guided by Islamic principles. In Central Eurasia, where Islam has roots since the eighth century, the path along modernity’s continuum has been a veritable tightrope, whereon even the sure-footed have lost their balance. How Muslims of this region, often in comparison with Muslims elsewhere and adherents of completely different manuscript traditions, have responded since the middle of the nineteenth century to the perception, reality, and representation of modernity is the primary theme of this course.
Reading assignments for each class period will be modest, but will require close attention, particularly to textual language, imagery, and argumentation, for the sake of in-class discussion. Also required will be a 12 to15-page essay.