Near Eastern Language & Civilizations
Food in Islamic Middle East
BFS Sector II
In the tenth century, a scholar named Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq produced an Arabic manuscript called Kitab al-Tabikh (“The Book of Cooking”.) This volume, which compiled and discussed the recipes of eighth- and ninth-century Islamic rulers (caliphs) and their courts in Iraq, represents the oldest known surviving cookbook of the Arab-Islamic world. Many more such cookbooks followed; in their day they represented an important literary genre among cultured elites. As one food historian recently noted, “there are more cookbooks in Arabic from before 1400 than in the rest of the world’s languages put together”.
This course will take the study of Ibn Sayyar’s cookbook as its starting point for examining the cultural dynamics of food. The focus will be on the Middle East across the sweep of the Islamic era, into the modern period, and until the present day, although many of the readings will consider the study of food in other places (including the contemporary United States) for comparative insights.
The class will use the historical study of food and “foodways” as a lens for examining subjects that relate to a wide array of fields and interests. These subjects include politics, economics, agricultural and environmental studies, anthropology, literature, religion, and public health. With regard to the modern era, the course will pay close attention to the social consequences of food in shaping memories and identities – including religious, ethnic, national, and gender-based identities – particularly among people who have dispersed or otherwise migrated.
Reading Ancient Mesopotamia
NELC 244-401, Cross Listed with: NELC-544
BFS Sector III and CCA
The literature of ancient Mesopotamia flourished thousands of years ago in a culture all of its own, yet the survival of hundreds of thousands of written records challenges us to read it and make sense of it without simply approximating it to the realm of our own understanding. How can we learn to do this?
Situating our understanding of how we read and how we understand culture within an interdisciplinary range of literary-critical and analytic approaches, we will approach this question by immersing ourselves in the myths, tales and mentalities that made Mesopotamian literature meaningful. To give us a measure of our progress we will bracket the semester by reading Gilgamesh which is never less than a great story, but which will take on new layers of meaning as the semester develops and we learn to read the text in more and more Mesopotamian ways.
As we journey through these mysterious realms we will reflect not only Mesopotamia and its immortal literature but on what it means to read and understand any cultures other than our own.
The Binding of Issac
NELC 252-401, Cross Listed with: ANTH-129 JWST100 NELC 552 RELS 129
The Akeidah, or the Binding of Isaac, as told in Genesis 22, is one of the great Biblical stories and the foundation for one of the great themes of Western religion, the near-sacrifice and restoration of the beloved son.
The story is also one of the most problematic texts in all Biblical literature and a source for countless later tales and re-imaginings in later Jewish, Christian, and Islamic literature. In this course, we will study the history of this tale and its theme from the Bible through the modern period in order to show how a Biblical tradition develops and changes in response to historical change.
The focus will be on Jewish tradition but we will also consider Christian and Islamic parallels because, as we shall see, no religious tradition in Western culture has ever developed in a vacuum. In this way, we will also attempt to understand the very nature of Tradition—the process by which the past is received and handed on to future generations—as it figures in Judaism and Western culture in general.