Islam and the West gives students the opportunity to investigate representations of Islam in European literature. Starting with Dante’s depiction of Mohammed in the Inferno, students will analyze historically specific perceptions of Islam in Western Europe. In the first half of the academic term, students will read literature by Europeans who traveled to predominantly Muslim countries, inquire into the relationship between the European literary imagination and the colonization of the Middle East and North Africa, and investigate the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fascination with the Orient. Students will read excerpts from the first eighteenth-century translation of the Arabian Nights and ask what attracted Goethe to Persian poetry. Music will be integrated into the syllabus in order to highlight the intersections between literature and other artistic forms. By studying Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio and listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony students will discuss exoticizing versus universalizing approaches to the Muslim world. The second half of the course is dedicated to the place of Islam in Europe from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. The course prepares students to understand how Islam continues to work ex negativo in the making of Western European culture. The course maps out the long-term implications of this view and discusses Turkey’s integration into the European Union. Islam and the West takes up some of the controversial and thought-provoking debates on Islam in Europe at the turn of the millennium. Among them is the Ayatollah’s fatwa following the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, the headscarf-debate in France and Germany, and the murder of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch director who was assassinated by a Muslim fundamentalist because of his work with the feminist artist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Readings will cover a wide range of genres, including travel literature, fiction, poetry, memoirs, libretti, and theoretical readings. The screening of films by Turkish-German filmmakers and Gogh’s and Hirsi Ali’s Submission is integrated into the syllabus.
Themes that are of particular interest include:
- the equation of the Western world with modernity
- the emergence of secularism
- the concept of tolerance
- the intersections between religion, gender, and sexuality.
The syllabus incorporates texts that capture cross-cultural exchange processes between Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds, including conversion narratives and literature concerning the practice of “going native” among European travelers in the Middle East. The selection of films will afford the opportunity to discuss honor killings, blasphemy, and heresy within Muslim communities in Europe. This course offers students new pathways of thinking about the historical relationship between Islam and Europe and discusses the contemporary demand in the Europe Union for Muslims to Westernize, integrate, and assimilate.