GISRAM Courses 2008-2009

Autumn 2008

(* means: there is a language prerequisite)

Comparative Studies 725: Theorizing Religion
TR 1:30 pm – 3:18 pm, Instructor Hugh Urban (

Far from waning in significance in our increasingly globalized, technological and interconnected modern world, religion has re-emerged as a powerful force with tremendous social, economic and political implications. This course is an intensive seminar devoted to the close critical reading of a series of key theories in the contemporary study of religion.
The approaches covered in this course will include: Neo-Marxism and critical theory, postmodernism and deconstruction, feminism and gender-theory, evolutionary theory and cognitive science. The authors we read will include: Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Grace Jantzen, Pamela Sue Anderson, Pascal Boyer, and others. Students will be expected to lead class discussions, write one original research paper and give an oral presentation based on their final project.

Comparative Studies 792A: Theories of Myth
TR 1:30 pm – 3:18 pm, Instructor: Merrill Kaplan (

Stories about gods, stories about how the world came to be in the form it has now, stories set before the beginning of time or at the end of time—myth is a major genre of traditional narrative, and every human society has myths. How did they start? What is the relationship between myth and religion? How is it that so many myths are so similar even though they come from wildly different places? Are they literature? What do they mean, and how can we analyze them? This course is about how to think about myth and how myth is good to think with. Students will become familiar with the major theories and theorists of myth and bring them to bear on Norse, Greco-Roman, and other world mythologies. The subject matter will be of interest to students of folklore, religion, and ancient literatures, among others. Assigned books will include Theories of Mythology (Eric Csapo), Sacred Narrative (ed. Alan Dundes), Ovid’s Metamorphases, and Snorri Sturluson’s Edda. Shorter readings will be made available online.

Comparative Studies 710: Approaches to Comparative Cultural Studies I
MW 3:30 pm - 5:18 pm, Instructor: Nina Berman (

This course explores some of the basic paradigms of research in the study of culture that arise in the modern period (mostly the late 19th- and early 20th- centuries). We will situate these paradigms in historical context and examine what is at stake in the ways society, social relations and culture are conceived in the wake of the Enlightenment. This course is followed by and preparatory for CS 711, which focuses on contemporary work in comparative and cultural studies. Readings may include such 19th- and 20th-century theorists and writers as Darwin, Wollstonecraft, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Conrad, Durkheim, Lévi-Strauss.

*Greek 880: Greek Journeys to Otherworldly Realms
T 2:20 pm – 5:30 pm, Instructor: Ilinca Tanaseanu-Doebler (

This seminar explores different instances of breaking through everyday experience and travelling to the beyond, either upwards to the realm of the gods, or downwards towards the netherworld. We shall read and discuss examples from different literary genres, looking at philosophical ideas of ascent (e. g. Parmenides, Empedocles, Plato, Plutarch), mythical journeys (serious ones like the Nekyia or the myth of Orpheus, but also their counterparts in comedy or satire, e. g. Aristophanes and Lucian), or magical texts (PGM). Particular interests of the students will also be considered. We will trace and analyse the cosmological and anthropological assumptions underlying the different journeys, focussing on the motivation for undertaking the journey, the methods of crossing the border to other realms, their depiction and the phases of the journey, and, last but not least, the methods of return to everyday life.

*NELC 635.1: Akkadian 1
TR 01:30 pm – 03:18 pm, Instructor: Sam Meier (

This two-quarter course aims at familiarizing students with the basics of Akkadian grammar and enabling them to read legal and literary materials. Students will be introduced to two major compositions: the so-called "Code" of Hammurabi and the Epic of Gilgamesh. In order to achieve an efficient knowledge of Akkadian grammar, the dialect chosen will be Old Babylonian, the language of the period of Hammurabi. Old Babylonian (OB) presents many advantages: the importance and variety of its textual corpus; the very easy transition from OB to texts in other Akkadian dialects (Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, etc.); and the fact that OB constitutes the basis of the main Akkadian literary dialect (Standard Babylonian, as used in Gilgamesh). 642.Representing the Middle East in Film U G 5 Examination of the discourses of Orientalism using film as the primary medium of statement and discussion. Au, Wi Qtrs. 2 2-hr cl. Prereq: Permission of instructor. By looking at films made in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, this course will explore the process of identity production and critically reconsider the phenomenon of Orientalism. It will then proceed to review examples of how tropes of viewing the Middle East have become incorporated into how peoples of the region evaluate their own identities. Students will be expected to synthesize materials from multiple sources in order to construct original responses to the films seen in class.

*NELC 620: Introduction to Hebrew Literary and Cultural Texts
MW 09:30AM – 11:18AM, Instructor: Adena Tanenbaum (

Literary and cultural Hebrew texts from the biblical to the modern period; students will develop the ability to read critically and to build analytical vocabulary. This course introduces the student to Hebrew literary and cultural texts from the biblical to the modern period. Focusing on Jerusalem, students will gain familiarity with a variety of Hebrew literary genres and their distinctive features. While continuing to build vocabulary and reading skills, students will be encouraged to read these texts critically and analytically. Secondary readings (in English) on the history and cultural life of Jerusalem will provide additional insights.

NELC 671: The Qur’an in Translation
MW 09:30AM – 11:18AM, Instructor Georges Tamer (

An introduction, in English, to the literary, religious, and cultural implications of the fundamental Book of Arabic literature and of Islamic civilization. As the unique scripture for the world's millions of Muslims since the early seventh century, the Qur’an has been the foundation of faith, the pattern and text for ritual, the source of law, the link with Judaeo-Christian monotheism, and the wellspring of an international, multicultural Islamic civilization. As verbal art, the Qur’an is held by Muslims to be linguistically and stylistically inimitable; and it is unquestionably a - if not THE - masterpiece of Arabic literature, even though its style, content, and arrangement are often poorly appreciated, misunderstood, and even misrepresented in this country. Through lectures and assigned readings, this course acquaints students with the geographical, historical, social, political, cultural, and religious environment of sixth and seventh century Arabia. There, in the international trade center of Mecca around 610 A.D., a moderately successful merchant from a moderately important family, Muhammad son of Abdallah, received the first of a series of revelations from God that ended with his death in 632 A.D. and radically transformed his life, the lives of his people, and the history of the world. These revelations, which collectively comprise the Qur’an as it was established shortly after the Prophet's death, will form the primary subject matter of the course, i.e., through careful examination and serious discussion of extensive passages in at least three translated versions of the Arabic original. The primary object of the course will be to bring students to some understanding of just what the Qur’anic revelations might have meant to those who first heard them from the Prophet, how they might have affected different listeners in different contexts, and why they could so effectively move individuals, families, tribes, and whole societies in order to bring about the monumental personal and social reorientation that was - and is - Islam.


Spring 2009

Hebrew 623 Readings in Rabbinic Literature
M,W 3:30-5:18 PM, Instructor: Michael Swartz

Study of selected texts and issues in Rabbinic literature, and discussions of the methods by which they are studied

Hebrew 721 Studies in Hebrew Poetry: Medieval Hebrew Poetry from Spain
M, W 9:30-11:18 AM, Instructor: Adina Tanenbaum

Of Related Interest:
Arabic 722 Studies in Arabic Prose: Selections from the 1001 Nights
M,W 1:30-3:18 PM, Instructor: Bruce Fudge

Comparative Studies 651J Meso-American Religions: Indigeneity or Hybridity
T, R 1:30-3:19 PM, Instructor: Lindsay Jones

The class begins with a consideration of Meso-American religion before the arrival of the Europeans, but will devote much time to the developments in the wake of this arrival and the tension between two prominent tendencies, indigeneity and hybridity.