Spring 2009

The Anthropology of Women and Islam in the Contemporary Middle East


Nadia Guessous (Section 01)


This seminar is an introduction to the anthropological study of women and Islam in the contemporary Middle East. Through an exploration of women’s religious identities, discourses and practices, this course seeks to think about: 1) what it means to take Islam as an object of anthropological analysis, 2) how gender is mediated by religious discourses and practices, and 3) how feminist theory has grappled with the question of religion. Readings for the course will include ethnographic, historical, and fictional texts written by and about Muslim women in places as diverse as Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, and Morocco, and will help us explore the following set of interrelated questions: How do women construct and inhabit their gendered and religious identities? Through what kinds of embodied practices and dispositions do they come to be constituted as Muslim subjects? How are tradition, religion and modernity conceptualized and invoked by both pious and secular women? In what ways are women’s religious practices and beliefs mediated by the institutions of the modern state? And how has the Islamic Revival reshaped women’s religious narratives and practices in the contemporary Middle East? Prior familiarity with the Middle East, Islam, anthropological and feminist theory is desirable but not required. Second semester. Offered once Spring semester. Five College Fellow Guessous.