Fall Courses Highlight Diversity at Mason

Posted: July 26, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Christopher Anzalone

John Barclay Burns
John B. Burns

With half of the summer break over, it’s time to start thinking about the fall semester. Students have already been poring over the hundreds of courses, including a variety of special topics, listed in George Mason’s fall 2005 Schedule of Classes. Seven special topics courses that address issues in global studies, international relations, conflict studies, religion, and cultural studies are highlighted below.

John Barclay Burns, associate professor of religious studies and director of the new Judaic Studies interdisciplinary minor program, will be teaching Religious Studies 402: Religious Fundamentalism and Violence. Burns will provide an introduction to Muslim, Christian, and Jewish fundamentalist groups throughout the world, including the Israeli settler movement, Palestinian religious militant groups such as Hamas, and North American Protestant evangelicals.

“We will explore historically the issue of the ‘holy war’ in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, or the idea that there is a certain justification for engaging in religious war,” he says. “Then we’ll explore the historical background and present context, and we try to do it in as detached a manner as possible to see where the fundamentalists are coming from. We will look at the original primary source texts as much as we can to see if they support this kind of violence and reaction. For example, we will look at the reaction in the United States among marginalized evangelical communities against the modern world and what they perceive as the frightening aspects of modern medical technology, bioethics, and so forth.”

Shaul Bakhash
Shaul Bakhash

Shaul Bakhash, Robinson Professor of History, will offer a section of History 387: Topics in Global History—Political Islam. Not be confused with Government 345: Political Islam, which is taught by Peter Mandaville, the history course will focus solely on movements within the Middle East and North Africa rather than the whole of the Muslim world.

“This course will provide a broad overview of the phenomenon of political Islam,” says Bakhash. “It will examine the ideas of some of the principal thinkers from the Islamic world on the subject of the intersection between religion and politics, Islamic political movements in major countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the response of governments to the radical Islamic political movements, the debate in the Islamic world on the relationship between religion and politics, and the manner in which scholars have sought to understand and interpret the phenomenon of political Islam.”

Sana Hilmi, term instructor of Arabic, will teach a section of Foreign Language 330: Topics in World Literature—Classical Arab Literature in Translation. After teaching a popular course on modern Arab literature in translation during the spring 2005 semester, Hilmi decided to design a companion course that would cover the classical and medieval periods when Arabic literature enjoyed its golden age. Beginning with the pre-Islamic period and running through the14th century, the course will focus primarily on poetry, prose, and speeches.

“In my opinion, the classical period is the most interesting when it comes to Arabic literature,” says Hilmi. “For example, the pre-Islamic period is famous for its ‘Hanging Poems,’ while the rise of Islam in the 7th century brought new religious literature in the form of the Qur’an and Ahadith [traditions of the Prophet Muhammad] and the Umayyad period saw the rise of a new generation of court poets, who conducted debates through their work. Finally, under the ‘Abbasids, the ‘golden age’ of Baghdad brought philosophy, singing poems, and the art of writing letters, while in Islamic Iberia, al-Andalusia, Hispano-Arabic poetry of love and passion flourished. In North Africa, the famous sociologist and historian Ibn Khaldun composed his Muqqadima, the ‘introduction’ to historical writing.”

Eric Anderson, associate professor of English, is teaching a section of English 363: Special Topics in Literature—Native American Literature, which is his primary field of expertise. The course will focus primarily on the beginnings of Native American literature during the last three decades as writers attempted to translate their cultural traditions into literary works.

“We’ll listen to the voices of Native American intellectuals—politicians, activists, religious figures, historians, authors—as we work to develop a native-centered understanding of both their history and Indian-white relations,” says Anderson. “I was hired primarily to teach Native American literature, which I think indicates that George Mason is committed to Native American studies, an extremely positive step with the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the increasing interest in ethnic studies, and the lack of Native American studies programs in universities on the East Coast.”

Susan Trencher
Susan Trencher

Susan Trencher, associate professor of anthropology, will offer a section of Anthropology 399: Issues in Anthropology—American Cultures in Conflict. “The course will examine a number of questions through an anthropological lens,” she says. “Isn’t it interesting that the term ‘un-American’ exists? And why don’t we hear about people being ‘un-Canadian’ or ‘un-British?’ Do Americans share a set of ideas about what ‘American’ means? Is there an American culture or is America a place made up of many cultures? Can the answer to both parts of that question be ‘yes?’

“We’ll focus on the American experience as framed and permeated by core conceptual underpinnings and beliefs, including ideas about opportunity, individualism, equality, the power of science, and the role of religion. I think this is a particularly good time to offer this course, as discussions and concerns about what it means to be an American have become both more vocal and more volatile. From the point of view of anthropology, part of an informed view about contemporary issues includes awareness of how culture permeates the ways in which we interpret ourselves and others, as variously defined, at home and abroad.”

Suzanne Scott, assistant professor in New Century College, will teach a section of New Century Learning Communities 375: Special Topics on Gender Representations in Culture. The interdisciplinary course will explore the ways in which masculinity and femininity have been represented through modern history on television and in film and music videos, pop art, and print media. Attention will also be paid to the ways in which cultural, racial, and class differences affect gender roles and expectations.

Readings will span several academic fields, including cultural history, sociology, psychology, media studies, and art history. “I decided to offer this course because I noticed that students frequently assume that the traits they observe as masculine or feminine are innate,” says Scott. “I want them to examine their assumptions and to notice how the political, social, economic, and psychological currents change our notions of what is masculine and feminine. In the class, we acknowledge our love-hate relationship with the media.”

Roger Paden, associate professor of philosophy, will offer a section of Philosophy 421: Seminar—Environmental Ethics. The course’s primary focus will be on examining the ways in which ethical theories can and are applied to issues of environmental policy. Students will be introduced to the concept of moral reasoning and traditional moral theories, classical moral philosophical writings, and the possible implications for moral theory on developments in biology, particularly evolutionary and ecological theories.

The complete fall 2005 Schedule of Classes is available on PatriotWeb.

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