Indiana University Bloomington
Central Eurasian Studies >> Courses >> Course List
U797 Seminar on Family, Gender and Population Dynamics in the Middle East and Central Asia
M. Nazif Shahrani

The objectives of this seminar are: 1) to examine family and gender ideals and practices of Muslims; 2) to study the demographic behavior of Muslim populations of the Middle East and the newly independent states of Central Asia; 3) to expose students to critical research issues for the comparative study of population dynamics in Muslim societies and culture of the Middle East and post-Soviet Central Asia; and 4) to explore the intellectual and practical implications of integrating anthropological and demographic methods of research and analysis for the studies of population dynamics in general and those of the Muslim Middle East and Central Asia in particular.

During most of this century high fertility rates and rapid population growth have characterized demographic trends in the Middle East and Central Asia.  Living under similar arid and generally marginal ecological conditions and limited natural resources, the vast majority of the inhabitants of these areas are Muslims.  Divided by Western colonial powers during this century into distinct national states or republics/autonomous regions, the Muslims of these regions have undergone substantially different colonial, political, economic, educational, industrial, and developmental experiences.  The importance of these diverse and often very intense colonial and/or national development policies and programs, especially for the future of population dynamics and access to increasingly scarce national and regional strategic resources cannot be under estimated.  Furthermore, the collapse of the Soviet empire and emergence of many new independent Muslim states in Central Asia, burdened by the considerable legacies of seven decades of Soviet rule, together with the potential social, economic and ideological reorientation of the Central Asian states towards Islam and Muslim nations of the Middle East, present new challenges and opportunities for comparative research on fertility and population growth in Central Asia and the Middle East.

The traditional assumption that Islam has a strong positive effect on fertility because of (presumed) subordination of women, gender hierarchy, favorable attitude about sexuality, and early endogamous and polygynous marriage practices will be challenged and critically assessed in light of recent research findings.  We will not assume uniform and universal positive effects of Islam on the reproductive behavior of Muslims.  Instead, we will explore how relevant Islamic beliefs have been interpreted differently over time and space, and are used (or abused) by various contemporary states and organizations.  To evaluate the varying impact of Islam upon contemporary Muslims' reproductive behavior, we will also pay close attention to the beliefs, attitudes and decisions of individual Muslim actors (women and men) and the changing environmental, familial, local, national, and regional sociopolitical and historical contexts.

The first part of the seminar will consist of readings and discussions of essential background materials, and will include critical evaluations of a number of case studies about Central Asia and the Middle East.  The second part will involve discussion of student project presentations.

Required Books: [Some titles will vary]

Ahmed, Leila Women and Gender in Islam.
Aitmatov, Chingis The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years.
Aminova, R.Kh. The Revolution and Women's Liberation in Uzbekistan.
Dragadze,   Kinship and Marriage in the Soviet Union.
Gocek & Balaghi Reconstructing Gender in the Middle East: Tradition, Identity and Power.
Menard & Moen Perspectives on Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues.
Obermeyer, Carla Family, Gender, and Population in the Middle East: Policies in Context.
Omran, A. Rahim Family Planning in the Legacy of Islam.
Rugh, Andrea  Family in Contemporary Egypt.
Scott, Joan  Gender and the Politics of History.
Shorter, Edward The Making of the Modern family.

Recommended Readings:

Allman, James, ed. Women's Status and Fertility in the Middle East.
Attwood, Lynne The New Soviet Man and Women.
Heitlinger,  Women and State Socialism.
Kagitcibasi, Cigdem Sex Roles, Family and Community in Turkey.
Schieffelin, Olivia Muslim Attitudes Toward Family Planning.
Spellberg, D. A. Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'Aisha Bint Abi Bakr.

Course Requirements: A critical written report of the reading assignments for each week (about 2-3 double spaced typewritten pages) highlighting the most significant points (positive and negative) about the authors' approach in the text(s).  These brief weekly review are due via e-mail by 8:00pm on Wednesdays.  Students are also expected to actively participate in class discussions, lead at least one class discussion, make an oral presentation of the term project, and submit a term paper on the term project.  The term project will consist of a review essay consisting of: 1) critical reading, detailed assessment and synthesis of all required and at least two of the recommended readings for the seminar; and 2) serious and reasoned reflection on how the theoretical, conceptual, methodological and substantive issues covered in this seminar will (or will not) be useful to your own specific topics or fields of research interests and why.  The essay should be about 20 typed pages (double-spaced).

Days and Time:  Tuesday, 1:00-3:30.