Course Description This course provides a basic introduction to Islamic scripture, law and spirituality. Our approach is historical, undertaking a critical investigation of both texts and contexts, in an attempt to understand and analyze the lived reality of Islam past and present. Roughly one out of every five people on this planet identify as Muslim, and yet Americans know relatively little about a religious tradition having such a profound influence on world history and culture and which continues to impact contemporary events. Whereas media images tend to distort its message and dilute its meanings, we will give Islam far more careful consideration, approaching this religion as the rich and multi-faceted tradition that it is. Taking a global perspective, we will encounter Islam in action, from Indonesia to Arabia to Senegal to Pakistan to Trinidad (and many points in between). Covering some core beliefs and practices shared by most Muslims, we will emphasize the complexity and diversity of Muslim life, as various Muslim cultures interpret and implement Islam in different ways.
Required books include:
Frederick Denny, An Introduction to Islam, 4th edition.
Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, 2nd edition.
A recommended text is The Qur'an, as translated by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem. There are no assigned readings from this book, but you may want to have a copy of the Qur’an around to occasionally consult. This is simply one among several reliable translations; consult Sells, pp. 231-232, for more information about English renditions of the Qur’an.
All other required readings will be made available as a Course Reader.
Learning Goals By taking this course, students will be able to:
(i.) identify the major tenets and practices of a global religion;
(ii.) understand the history of this religion and its impact on global culture;
and (iii.) disambiguate some of the more prominent strands of the Muslim tradition,
such that Islam does not appear monolithic or univocal.
Studying Religion In studying Islam as a global “religion,” we are selecting certain beliefs, practices and institutions and situating them within a scholarly rubric, namely that of Religious Studies. So a few underlying premises of the academic discipline should be stated here, at the outset.
First, it must be made clear that any course in Religious Studies intends neither to promote nor demote any type of religious beliefs or activities. Rather, one can distinguish being educated about religion from being indoctrinated for or against religion.
Second, one begins studying any tradition by seeking to understand that tradition as it understands itself, and recognizing that any tradition speaks with a plurality of voices.
Third, we are not compelled to agree with the voices encountered in our study, although it is hoped that some may command our respect. Our primary intention in Religious Studies is to think about religion critically, although not unsympathetically. Yet this critical approach means being analytical, rather than simply being judgmental; we are not looking to gut-level reactions, but asking instead for measured reflections.
Fourth, the study of religion is ideally suited to further our understanding of history, culture, and human identity. In learning about religion, we see how religions orient their practitioners in space and time, providing personal meanings and structuring societies. We observe how religions exercise authority over people, even as they empower people to deal with everyday dilemmas or to act under extraordinary circumstances. We discover that religions are not timeless and unchanging, but develop in history, whether viewed in its epic sweep or in its quotidian specificity. We thus find that religions are embeddedin particular cultures, just as religions are embodied by those practicing them.
In sum, we seek in Religious Studies to uncover important dimensions of the human experience and to subject them to critical inquiry, divested of preconceptions and prejudices.
Your grade consists of the following components:
Participation 10 %
Reflection Papers 40 %
First Exam 25 %
Final Exam 25 %
_________________________________ Total 100 %
While the course will begin with a trio of lectures, we’ll quickly move towards a discussion format, where your participation is imperative, and for which you will be duly evaluated. So participation is not a “gimme,” as it requires a strong and continual effort throughout the semester. Our goal is have a sustained and thoughtful conversation about this topic, and this will not be achieved through half-hearted attempts.
So understand that attendance is mandatory. You should make every effort to always be at class (and to be on time, and not leave prematurely). Of course, participation is far more than showing up. It is an active engagement: you must have done the reading and be prepared to discuss it. It is talking with and listening to others: you will be an integral part of that conversation. You should have questions; you should have comments; above all, you should have curiosity.
Reflection Papers are short pieces of writing (3-5 paragraphs, at least 2 pages) in which you respond to questions that I distribute ahead of time. You will be writing several reflection papers throughout the semester. We will use these papers as jumping off points for discussion, but you will also turn them in, and they will be graded.
Exams are take-home essays of moderate length. I will say more about effective essay writing and developing your ideas once the semester is under way.
If you think you have a reasonable need for an extension, then it behooves you to make the case for one before the assignment is due. Otherwise, late work will be marked down. I will deduct half a letter grade for each day an assignment is late. All papers and exams must be submitted in hard-copy form, unless prior arrangements are made with the instructor.
To sum up these requirements: clearly, I expect you to work. But I think the workload is appropriate, and I trust that we can have some fun working through it together.
Classroom Civility Do not be late, and do not be rude. I hope that we will engage each other in open and honest ways, but both our speech and our demeanor should reflect common courtesy for those around us. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will promptly result in being asked to leave the class.
Feel free to bring a beverage or snack, and, if you are so inclined, enough to share. I just ask that eating and drinking do not interfere with our learning.
Please turn off cell phones and any other small electronic devices before you come to class. Take your headphones off or remove your ear buds, and stow anything that texts or beeps well out of sight. I will start the semester out by allowing the use of laptops, as some students prefer to take their notes this way, but I will promptly rescind this permission if I feel that people are paying more attention to their computer screen than to class. In short, anything that might provide a distraction to the user, to other students, or to the instructor will not be indulged.
Student Disabilities I am happy to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. If you believe you will need it, then you must formally request academic accommodation from Meg Hegener, Coordinator for Students with Disabilities, and provide documentation verifying your disability. For further information, please call 580-8150, or stop by the office of Student Academic Services in Starbuck Center.
Honor Code I expect you to live up to Skidmore’s Honor Code and strictly avoid any forms of academic dishonesty. Copying from others, submitting someone else’s work as your own, or submitting your same work for two different courses are all forms of cheating. Any fact, word or thought that originated with somebody else must be promptly and properly cited. Plagiarism, even when inadvertently performed, is a serious violation of academic integrity, and will be treated as such. Suspected infractions of the Honor Code will be duly reported to the Dean of Academic Advising.
Partners in Learning To my mind, this syllabus establishes a kind of social contract, in which you and I agree to create a stimulating and supportive learning environment. We will debate positions and challenge each other. Yet whether engaging the instructor or other students, I simply ask that you be civil, even as I will push you to be honest and open in your thinking.
I trust that with this syllabus I have made clear my expectations, and that if I have not, you will call me to account. I also ask that you make your expectations clear to me, and let me know how we can best achieve that partnership in learning. You may always ask questions; I will not mind if you ask me to repeat something or to clarify a point. Feel free to come by my office, or to contact me by e-mail, in order to discuss any matters pertaining to the course.
I look forward to an exciting semester working together.
Please Note:you should have the assigned readings done before
you come to the class for which they have been assigned.
CR = Course Reader
D = Denny, Introduction to Islam Sept 10. Introductions: syllabus, classmates, instructor.
Sept 15. No class: Rosh ha-Shanah.
Sept 17. Abrahamic Religions before Muhammad. Reading: D, pp. 15-28 and 32-44.
Sept 22. The Prophet Muhammad: His Life & Sunna.
Reading: D, pp. 49-72, 150-155 and mid 160-163.
Sept 24. After Muhammad:Caliphate, Civil Wars & Empire.
Reading: D, pp. 74-95.
Sept 24. Opportunity for extra credit:
Muhammed al-Atawneh, Greenberg Middle East Scholar-in-Residence,
will be speaking on, “Rethinking the ‘Other,’ ‘Otherness,’
and Tolerance in Wahhabi Thought,”
at Davis Auditorium, 7:30 p.m.
Sept 29. Qur’an. Reading Signs, Heeding Warnings.
Readings: D, pp. 130-mid 134. Sells, pp. 1-28, 42-55 and 74-77.
Listening: Sells, tracks 2 & 23, while consulting pp. 172-173.
Oct 1. Qur’anic Recitation. Reading: Sells, pp. 84-93, 145-157 and 161-165.
Also read Denny (CR). Listening: tracks 9 & 24, consulting pp. 174-184.
Oct 6. Qur’anic Study, Interpretation & Calligraphy. Readings: D, pp. 139-148.
Hadith of Gabriel (CR) and Nasr (CR).
Oct 8. Pillars. Shahada & Salat. Readings: D, pp. 99-mid 116. Mattson (CR).
Listening: Sells, tracks 1 & 32, while consulting pp. 166-171. On You Tube, view the “Step-by-Step Guide to Prayer” posted by Shaykha. It is laid out in seven parts; just watch the first 3 units (wudu, reminders & fajr), starting with: