What is Islam? This question obscures a critical survey of Muslim belief and ritual in historical perspective. Muslims have not always used the word, “Islam,” to refer to the constellation of ideas and practices elaborated by several 7th century Arab figures, including the Prophet Muhammad. This course unpacks the modern construction of “Islam” as “religion,” but also introduces students to Muslim doctrines, devotional acts, and institutions. To that end, we will read about the Islamic religious tradition from a number of thematic angles: community, historical self-consciousness, scripture, memory, theology, sectarianism, law and jurisprudence, mystical experience and practice, gender, sexuality, race and racialization, secularity, and cultural assimilation. In this way, we will use various crucial themes to survey key characteristics of Muslim experiences from late antiquity to modern times. At the same time, we will also study issues of representation and translation in Islamic studies. This course therefore brings two objects of study under critical scrutiny: “Islam” (by studying various accounts by and about Muslims) and “Islamic studies” (by studying various representations of “Islam” within multiple disciplinary frameworks, including religious studies, history, cultural anthropology, area studies, and political science).


Gender and sexuality in Islam are widely contested terms in today’s global culture. Many human rights activists, media pundits, and fervent critics claim that misogyny and homophobia are inherent features of Islam. Muslims themselves are divided on these issues; some condemn gender inequalities and sexual repression, while others naturalize gendered hierarchies and heteronormativity. In everyday life, these issues play out in complex ways, as many Muslims consider criticisms of Islamic teachings about gender and sexual behavior as intrusions of Western cultural hegemony. Scholars of gender and sexuality in Islam therefore face tough methodological choices in navigating this politicized discursive landscape. Thanks to their painstaking efforts, we have a huge body of literature that can be classified as Islamicate gender studies. There is also burgeoning work on Islamicate sexualities. This course brings together these two domains of scholarly production with the basic assumption that gender and sexuality are mutually constitutive terms. Although we borrow this assumption from queer theory, the co- implication of gender and sexuality also becomes apparent when we examine how Muslim moral and legal discourses have historically regulated gender roles and sexual embodiment. In this seminar, we will address how classical and contemporary Islamic discourses elaborate and regulate gender in relation to sexual object choice. We will also examine those social institutions in Islamicate settings that reinforce gender segregation and homosocial forms of intimacy. We will study myriad local arrangements of the sex- gender system in Muslim contexts. Whether in Indonesia or Morocco, Muslim bodies navigate complex social worlds.


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