Yeni Cami and Eminönü bazaar, Constantinople, Turkey, ca. 1895

Empire, Nation-State, Caliphate: The Modern Middle East

Instructor: Suzanne Schneider
The Workmen’s Circle
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018

The transition from empire to nation-state was among the most consequential developments to shape the Middle East over the last hundred years. Beginning with the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire at the close of WWI, the post-war international order invalidated heterogeneous forms of political organization in favor of the nation-state. It was a shift that rendered customary patterns of political and social life in the Middle East newly untenable, even as its acolytes tapped the power of nationalist thinking to argue for (and achieve) independence from colonial rule. How should we understand this ambivalent legacy, particularly given the rise of political forces like ISIS that explicitly repudiate nationalism? And how, over the course of a century, did the region go from empire to nation-state to caliphate?

This course will examine the troubled history and legacy of nationalism in the Middle East by focusing on four major periods and themes: early constructions of “the nation” as the basic unit of political and cultural life; exclusionary aspects of nationalism and the population exchanges, expulsions, and even genocide it seemed to justify; the heyday of left-leaning, “secular” nationalism during the Cold War era; and the resurgence of religiously-inflected politics in our own time. Drawing on examples from different nationalist traditions, ranging from Pan-Arabism to Zionism, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Turkish nationalist thought, we will ask: How was nationalism, an essential creation of 18th and 19th century Europe, assimilated into the varied contexts of the Middle East, and in what ways were the “imagined communities” in colonial and post-colonial settings different from those of their predecessors? Was nationalism, as some argue, an unrelenting failure that stamped out the region’s historic polyglot character and fostered intolerance, or a positive political force that steered colonized peoples toward independence? And how does examining the relationship between nationalist and religious models of politics add nuance to our understanding of both?

Readings will include original writings from a wide range of figures, from Rashid Rida to Ahad Ha-am, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Said Akl, Muhammad ‘Izzat Darwaza, George Antonius, David Ben-Gurion, Michel Aflaq, and Gamal Abdel Nasser. We will complement these primary sources with theoretical reflections about nationalism, colonial resistance, and identity from thinkers including Benedict Anderson, Partha Chatterjee, Edward Said, and Ella Shohat, as well as historical studies to situate our analysis in context.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm
April 06 — May 04, 2017
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet on April 13th


Registration Open

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