REL 231
The Origins of Islam: God, Empire and Apocalypse
Last Offered Spring 2008
Division II
Cross-listed REL 231 / HIST 209
This course is not offered in the current catalog or this is a previous listing for a current course.

Class Details

The rise of Islam in the seventh-century C.E. is usually seen, by both Muslim and non-Muslim historians, as a total break with the past. This course will challenge that assumption by placing the rise of Islam in the context of the history of late antiquity (c. 300-700 C.E.). The first half of the course will examine the impact of Judeo-Christian monotheism in the ancient world, the rise of confessional empires, articulation of new ideas about holiness and its relation to sexuality and the transformations undergone by Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. We shall examine the conversation of these traditions with classical paganism and philosophy, the internal struggle within traditions to define rules of interpretation, the impact of ascetic, iconoclastic and apocalyptic ideas and, finally, polemics among the traditions. Special attention will be given to borderlands (Armenia, Syria, and Arabia), where the problems of regionalism and religious diversity were prominent. We will then examine the career of Muhammad (PBUH) in the context of Arabia, the spread of the Islamic empire into Christian and Iranian worlds, the impact of apocalyptic expectations, the fixation of religious decision-making within the tradition and the question of conversion and religious diversity within the commonwealth of Islam. The course will end with the flourishing of the Abbasid empire in the ninth century. This course will make use of the Antioch 2000 exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum.
Each class will use a case study approach focusing on one textual, artistic, or architectural artifact.
The Class: Limit: 30
Expected: 20
Class#: 3573
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: one 5-page paper, self-scheduled final, and a final research project
Prerequisites: none; open to all
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
REL 231 Division II HIST 209 Division II
Attributes: INST Middle Eastern Studies Electives
REL Islamic Tradition Courses

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