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Area Studies Courses

This page contains course descriptions for AMIDEAST Area Studies courses which have been previously offered in Amman. Please note that only some of the courses listed below are offered each semester. AMIDEAST cannot guarantee that any specific course(s) will be offered as the course list changes each semester based on previous student interest and professor availability. As AMIDEAST programs continue to grow, new courses may be added each semester in addition to those listed below. The course descriptions listed here do not represent final offerings for any given term, but rather they are intended to give students a general sense of the scope and focus of the program.

Approximately 6-8 weeks before the start of the semester, students are sent information regarding the courses that will be offered during the upcoming term through the Student Portal. Students indicate their top course preferences in the Student Portal. Based on student preferences, including overall enrollment in specific courses, AMIDEAST staff places each student in two or three courses, as appropriate. Students who need course syllabi from past semesters to assist with course pre-approval at their home institution should write to We recommend that students who need pre-approval prior to final courses being announced submit a variety of courses and then update academic advisors once final offerings are known.


Course Descriptions

ANTH 301: Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East (Anthropology 301, 3 credits)

This interdisciplinary course presents a general introduction to the contemporary Middle East, a region that has come to carry diverse meanings to Westerners.  It will highlight the multiple and the complex cultural and socio-political life in the Contemporary Middle East, challenging some of the assumptions and stereotypes about the history, cultures, religions and politics associated with this particular region.  It will introduce the various Middle Eastern groups as they vary in language, religion, subsistence economy and other cultural variables.  The genealogical relationships between dialects, sects, and modes of subsistence will be outlined and framed within a historical context in order to highlight the dynamic nature of Middle Eastern diversity and how impressions of "stagnant East" are often misleading.  Furthermore, the biological diversity of the Middle Easterners will be examined in relation to the legacy of "scientific racism," nationalist claims and the findings of modern population genetics.  

ANTH 370: Social Change in Contemporary Jordan (Anthropology 370, 3 credits)

This course focuses on the socio-cultural impact of recent political and social events in the Middle East on contemporary Jordanian society.  The course highlights the complexities of cultural, ethnic, and socio-political change in contemporary Jordan and the impact of external factors on the changes taking place.  In addition, many of the assumptions and stereotypes about Jordan’s history, cultures, religions, and politics are examined and challenged.  Topics covered in this course include the various waves of migration into Jordan (Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians) and how the presence of immigrants transformed and continues to transform the socio-cultural and political structures of Jordanian society, the impact of the Arab spring on Jordan as a socio-political entity, and the role of the Jordanian youth in reshaping the country’s political and national identity. In addition, the new Islamic groups, with special emphasis on groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), will be examined to discuss their role in and impact on the various segments of Jordanian society. Furthermore, the role of women and the women’s movement in Jordan will be discussed in relation to regional and global women’s movements.

ART 350: Traditional Islamic Arts (Art 350, 3 credits)

This course introduces students to the study of traditional Islamic art in two dimensions.  The first dimension focuses on the basic concepts of the sacred geometry that is the basis of traditional Islamic art. The second consists of a practical art project in two media:  illumination & zillij (mosaic tile work). In the first dimension, students study the underlying principles of sacred geometry and practice the production of those geometric patterns that recur in traditional Islamic art forms. This is done, in part, through the repeated drawing of circles from which the traditional Islamic geometric patterns emerge. In the second module, more complex patterns will be used to create a work combining all three representations of Islamic art – geometry, calligraphy, and biomorphic motifs. 

By the end of the course, students will understand the design principles in Islamic art by studying the sacred geometry. Students will also have experience with two different materials and the traditional methods of working with these materials to produce an art work. In addition to producing the art pieces, students will create a portfolio which documents their journey throughout the course.

ECON 320: Economic Development in the Middle East and North Africa (Economics 320; 3 credits)

This course will explore issues relating to social, economic and political development in the MENA region through a multidisciplinary lens. And, as the course also aims to address the practical side of implementing development, it will depend on augmenting the classroom activities with field visits to and guest speakers from a variety of organizations working in the field of development. Students will be given indicative readings on the topics and encouraged to explore them more widely, especially by using examples of practical problems and policy questions, seeking primary data sources and reports. There are no particular prerequisites for this course; however elementary social science studies obtained in disciplines such as economics or politics or an interest in contemporary Middle East issues can be considered as foundational assets for the student. The course may also be of interest to students who are undertaking disciplinary social science degrees and who are interested in “Third World” politics or economics.

ENVR 320: Environmental Drivers of Change in the Middle East (Environmental Studies 320, 3 credits)

This course identifies, explores and highlights the linkages between natural resource use and political, economic and social dynamics in the Middle East. The analysis will feature both intra-state and inter-state dynamics with a focus on the degree to which natural resource endowment/scarcity contributes to the state of development in Arab countries, with special attention to Jordan. The course will be divided to three interconnected phases:

  1. General description of the environmental geography, environment, and sustainable development context in the Middle East based on recent scientific figures and trends.

  2. In-depth analysis of various environmental and natural resource issues in the region and their relationship to the socio-economic and political context; among the specific issues to be considered will be water, energy, food, health, population, urbanization, ecosystems and biodiversity, and climate change).

  3. Consideration of the future of the Middle East in relation to various scenarios related to sustainable vs. wasteful use of natural resources and peace/conflict options.

During the course several case studies will be used to illustrate the linkages discussed including the potential role of natural resource (mis)governance to the rise and spread of the Arab Spring since 2011.

ENVR 330: Social and Green Innovation in the Arab World (Environmental Studies 330, 3 credits)

This course will identify, explore, and emphasize the linkages between various development sectors and environmental and social values in the Arab region. Students will analyze changes in market and social dynamics which are leading to the positioning of green/social leadership and innovation as an opportunity for development in Arab countries. The course will highlight environmental stewardship, eco-design and innovation, and social entrepreneurship as practical means to deploy sustainable development principles. Students will explore the revival of social movements and locally-generated solutions which aim to achieve balance between economic, social, and environmental considerations. The analysis of this course will feature the challenges and opportunities for green/social innovation, different applications around the Arab world, the anticipated impact on job creation and local development, as well as the longer term benefits to communities - in particular women and youth empowerment. Case studies from Jordan and other countries from within and outside the Arab world will be used to demonstrate different models and to help students understand impact.

HIST 310: The Arab Gulf and the Indian Ocean: History and Current Issues (History; 3 credits)

This course aims to introduce students to the nature of the social, economic and political relations that connected the Gulf to the Western Indian Ocean from the sixteenth century onwards. Emphasis will be placed on the social, economic, religious and political currents that influenced the peoples of southwest Asia (or the Western Indian Ocean) on a regional scale. While the European colonial impact on the Gulf as well as on Southwest Asia will be a major focus, attention will also be placed on patterns and currents that predated the European intervention, and subsisted long after the Western impact had diminished.

HIST 380: Colonialism in Middle East and North Africa (History 380; 3 credits)

This course focuses on French and British colonial theory and practice in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). After a general introduction to the history of colonialism, the course will examine French policy in Algeria, Morocco, and Syria-Lebanon in the first half of the semester. The second part of the semester will focus on British strategy in India and Iraq. The purpose of this comparative analysis is to show that, beyond the singular purpose of hegemonic control over specific colonial territories and subjects in the MENA region, French and British strategies tactics and goals were quite often dissimilar. The course will examine how this difference id due as much to the peculiar histories and philosophical outlooks of both 19th and early 20th century powers, as to the countries they colonized. Indeed, if there were any similarities in French and British attempts to control local societies, these may have arisen as a result of the often violent reaction to foreign rule from supposedly subordinate societies. This course will examine the chain of responses—literary, economic, social and finally military and political—that developed in the colonized regions as a result of the land grabs, cultural disruption, geographic reconfigurations, political calamities, and the final dissolution of once-mighty land empire.

MENA 320: Perspectives on Social Policy in Jordan (MENA Studies; 3 credits)

This course examines theories, concepts and major contemporary issues in social policy. It aims at providing students with an understanding of the principal areas addressed in the study of social policy such as social services, social problems, social disadvantage and the systems necessary to address them. It looks into how social disadvantage, services, and problems are usually addressed predominantly by governments but also by some partners that have become increasingly important for governments to work with such as NGOs and communities. The course reviews the major areas included in social services (such as health administration, education, social protection); social problems (such as disability, unemployment, and old age); and social disadvantage (such as gender and poverty). Using the Jordanian context, it will look into the legal framework used to address such issues as well as how the various players attempt to contribute to human wellbeing. This would enable the students to examine social policies within their actual context. The course will be delivered both through lectures and through using interactive teaching tools to help students become active learners, develop their analytical and evaluative skills, and encourage them to go beyond initial reactions to complex issues. Some guests might be invited from relevant organizations for Q&A sessions with the students.

MENA 330: Contemporary Jordanian Culture (MENA Studies 330, 3 credits)

The course provides an in-depth overview of major trends in contemporary Jordanian culture.  Representative samples from a wide range of cultural manifestations will be studied.   These include relevant selections from the domains of art, music, fashion, cuisine, drama, cinema, media, architecture, and – to a lesser extent – politics and interfaith dialogue, based on students' interests.  In addition to class work, students will be able to meet with a number of invited guests and visit a number of sites and institutions.  Students are expected to keep a journal in which they record their notes, queries, observations and critiques.  We will also be examining various cultural discourses, to facilitate not only our discussion and conception of what is "Jordanian" or "Arab" but also our discussion of the problems of examining and studying contemporary Arab culture from a Western perspective.  Since no cultural product is divorced from the historical, social, political and economic context in which it is created, we will read various secondary materials on these subjects at the outset of the course. 

MENA 390: Community-Based Learning in the MENA Region (MENA Studies 390, 3 credits)

This course is designed to enhance students’ critical and analytical intercultural communication skills with the aim of developing intercultural competence. This is accomplished through course work and practical engagement with host country society in private, official, and semi-official environments. Guided and facilitated by the course instructor, students are expected to spend a minimum of six to seven hours at their community placement work-site each week and submit journal entries reflecting on their experiences. At the end of the semester they design and deliver a final Community-Based Learning project to be shared with a larger audience. Through their experiential education, students develop their intercultural competence which is a valuable asset in the global marketplace.

MENA 399: Independent Study Project (ISP) Seminar (MENA Studies 399, 3 credits)

Using textual or material resources, interviews, field observations, and/or other techniques, students  deeply explore a topic or issue in Middle East Studies through a self-designed independent study project (ISP).  Meeting weekly, the interdisciplinary ISP seminar is organized as a directed workshop including a combination of readings, discussion, writing, and students’ joint evaluation of each other’s works-in-progress. The assigned reading for the ISP seminar is light. Most of the readings are student generated through their own library research and through consultation with local scholars or professionals whose expertise most closely matches the proposed study.  Students work independently, carrying out work in a timely fashion, as assignments that factor into the final product will be due periodically. Class participation includes in-class peer evaluations in which students demonstrate a general understanding of the research process through the constructive criticism of their peers’ work.  Individual conferences with the professor on student progress will complement the directed workshop discussions and are integrated in the course schedule. Please note that this course is only taught periodically during fall semesters.

POLS 312: The Arab Spring:  Revolution and Reform in the Arab World (Political Science 312; 3 credits)

Beginning in December 2010, movements for political reform in the Arab world engulfed the region in a sea of change. This outpouring led to unprecedented outcomes across the region from the January 2011 Jasmine Revolution that forced Tunisia’s President Zine Eddine Ben Ali to flee to the Egyptian Revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of demonstrations centered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Protest movements seeking greater democracy and accountability arose in virtually every corner of the Arab world. The demands for change have led to both peaceful and violent demonstrations of varying intensity in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen.  Students will examine the conditions that led to the Arab Spring uprisings through a series of case studies including Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Topics covered include conditions that preceded the uprisings, regime reactions, the role of external players, and prospects for the future. 

POLS 315: Contemporary Issues in Jordan and the Arab World (Political Science 315; 3 credits)

This course will discuss the conceptual, historical, economic and cultural environment in which the contemporary Arab state system was established and has evolved. We will study the various political, social, and cultural trends which have contributed to the ways in which modern Arab World history has unfolded, highlighting such important themes as the changing relationship between the state and society; impact of Western economic, political and cultural might on the region; the search for political and cultural "authenticity" in response to the West; economic transformation and development; and the region's role in international relations. The various methodological paradigms that are employed in the study of the Arab world will be analyzed. It will offer an overview of Arab regimes, their emergence, consolidation, the role played by foreign powers in their creation and their final shaping. Using a comparative approach, we will investigate the formation of state and types of ruling regimes, societal power bases and systems, socio-political movements and ideologies, legitimacy and modern state power, and the scope and opportunities for political participation, liberalization and inclusion/exclusion. Basic concepts to be explored include power, elites, state, colonialism, nationalism, Islamic revivalism, democratization, human development, and gender issues. 

POLS 320: International Relations in the Middle East and North Africa (Political Science 320; 3 credits)

This course examines the different kinds of hard and soft threats that prevail in the Middle East and North Africa in the post cold war era to enable students to analyze and be able to predict objectively the effects of these hard and soft threats on the regional and international systems. Specifically, the course will focuses on the major issues of hard and soft threats that have a bilateral and multilateral nature in the region. It will examine threats that have direct short-term and long-term devastating consequences that are measurable in number of casualties, demolition of infrastructure, and other long-term effects not only on regional but also international peace and security in post cold war era.

POLS 325: The Arab Israeli Relations (Political Science 325, 3 credits)

This course provides an in-depth examination of the nature and dynamics of Arab Israeli politics. It explores some of the main approaches to understanding the political systems in Israel and the Arab States, with a focus on state formation, national identities, leadership, elites and ideologically-motivated terrorist violence.  It introduces students to the roots of the Arab Israeli conflict, including the two World Wars and their impact on the Middle East, the emergence of Zionism as a political force in Palestine, the emergence of Arab Nationalism as a  political force  in the region, the establishment of Israel and the wars that followed in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 as well as peacemaking efforts including the Egyptian Israeli peace treaty, the Jordanian Israeli peace treaty, and the Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and Israel.  Cutting-edge issues in several of the disciplines comprising Arab Israeli studies will be surveyed by examining debates within the political literature on the area.  The phenomenon of Islamism and its relevance to Arab Israeli relations will be examined as well at the pertinent debates and what intellectual and political stakes they represent.  Students will be required to present analytical accounts and form original arguments of their own in class presentations and written assignments.

POLS 330: International Politics in the Middle East and North Africa (Political Science 330; 3  credits)

This course focuses on the international politics of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) taking as its starting point the end of colonial rule in the region and the formation of new nation-states. The first part of the course is devoted to a methodological introduction of the study of the MENA region and aims at providing the conceptual frameworks and theories needed to define the MENA. Focusing on a more empirical analysis of the MENA’s political history, the second part of the course introduces and analyses the impact of Cold War dynamics on the region. It also examines the political economic and social transformations the region faced with the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a New World Order. After having examined the origins, causes, and consequences of the Israel/Palestine conflict in detail, the course examines important themes and debates in international politics of the MENA region, including gender and ideological movements. Finally, the current uprisings and their impact on the politics of the region are examined.

POLS 380: The Politics of Development in the Middle East (Political Science 380, 3 credits)

This course focuses on the politics of development in the Middle East and will address the theories and history of international development and implementation in the Arab region. The course is organized in a series of advanced seminars which rely on different theoretical frameworks. Paradigms of the historical-geographical relations between “developed” and “underdeveloped” societies will be discussed. In addition, the social processes at the root of inequalities between social groups and geographical regions will be analyzed and contemporary political and economic strategies will be critically assessed. Moreover, the course analyzes the cultural processes and the political strategies through which development policies are implemented. Students will examine the role of transnational institutions and civil society in sustaining development. The course examines the power dynamics, cultural processes, and hegemonic mechanisms at the basis of mainstream theories of development. Globalization and its dynamics will be assessed in order to unravel the contradictions that arise from an increasingly global, interconnected and integrated system that nevertheless engenders inequality and exclusion. The course provides a specific focus on the dynamics and processes of development in the Arab region. In doing so, the role of states in the area, the class relations, and the modes of production are critically examined. Students also have the opportunity to explore the concepts of globalization, neo-colonial practices and imperialism. The approach is primarily theoretical, with an emphasis on political mechanisms and global and regional economy, in an effort to challenge the concept and practice of development as it has been understood, theorized and practiced for the past fifty years.

POLS 390: Jordan in its Regional Context:  A Historical and Political Approach (Political Science 390; 3 credits)

The history of Jordan is in reality a history of the modern Middle East. The events that have transpired over the last hundred years, that have in fact shaped the region, are so interconnected with each other and with Jordan that by studying the history and politics of the country, one gains insight into the region as a whole. From the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans a century ago, to the creation of nation-states in the area, to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to Arab wars and Arab peace with Israel, to strife and violence in neighboring Iraq, Syria and Egypt, to the Arab spring and political reform, and to the global war against terror, Jordan has consistently been involved.

This course aims to acquaint students with the multitude of events and challenges that Jordan has faced over the years, how it has influenced and been influenced by them, how it has dealt with them, how it has been intricately engaged in them, and how it has survived them. By studying the modern history and politics of the country itself one will be able to learn about what Jordan is and develop a clearer and more comprehensive analysis of the region as a whole.

RELG 315: Introduction to Islam (Religion 315; 3 credits)

A paradox confronts Islam: on the one hand, it is a major world religion, comprised of roughly 1.5 billion followers and yet, on the other, it is perhaps the most misunderstood religion of our time. The objective of this course is three-fold. Firstly, it aims to provide students with an informed understanding of the basic parameters of the Muslim faith, including its central beliefs and teachings, as expounded in the foundational text of Islam: the Qur’an. Secondly, it strives to inculcate in students a critical awareness of how diversely Islamic texts (and by extension Islam as a whole) have been interpreted by Muslim scholars, living in different contexts and facing different problems. Thirdly, the course seeks to expose students to what might be called “popular Islam”. That is, how has Islam been “lived out”, how has it been embodied in non-scholarly circles, in everyday popular practices, including visual art, oral culture and clothing? A core expectation is that, by semester’s end, students will come to appreciate how a particular understanding and practice of Islam – or, for that matter, of any religion – is inescapably shaped by human experiences, assumptions and choices.

RELG 330: Contemporary Islamic Thought (Religion 330, 3 credits)

This course is an introduction course to contemporary Islamic thought. The central concern is the study of the ideational progress in Islamic thought. It provides an overview of main ideas and issues that have influenced Islamic thinking and Muslim politics over the last two centuries. In addition, the course will introduce leading and influential thinkers and texts that have played key roles in shaping the Muslim mind. While students are not expected to have specialized knowledge of Islamic thought, some background historical reading will help put the readings in context. Students will be introduced to various methodological and theoretical approaches in studying religious and political thought. The course will address the following themes: setting the stage, politics and debates in Islamic thought, Islamic theology and philosophy, modernity and traditionalism, key Islamic thinkers and important issues in Islamic thought including Ijtihad, democracy and human rights.

RELG 335: Women in Islam (Religion 335; 3 credits)

This course aims to examine the position of women in Islam. Using a mixture of historical and textual material, this course begins by investigating how the foundational texts of the Islamic faith (the Qur’an and the Hadith) have impacted the lives of women. The course will examine the impact ontologically, legally, and socially. We will touch upon how these texts were interpreted and applied in different historical epochs, with a focus on the modern context and how these texts are used to understand contemporary women’s issues such as identity, family, education, and public roles. As part of this course students learn to critically analyze the foundational texts and explain the development of Muslim women’s roles and identities.

RELG 370: Traditional Islamic Thought (Religion 370, 3 credits)

This course focuses on the spiritual dimension of Islamic Thought. Topics covered in this course include introduction to Islam, the Quran, the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammad and the path.  Then the course will move to discuss spirituality both in its inner and outer dimensions. As an example of the inner dimension of Islam, we will discuss the five inner stages of wisdom which form spirituality on a personal level. Through studying traditional and contemporary architecture and music students will be able to reflect on the outer role of spirituality and its social effects. The course will use a methodology in which students will not just ‘learn’ with their minds, but also with their hearts and souls.  Thus the course presents a unique methodology of thinking and approaching the different issues. Using the 1) willing, 2) loving, and then 3) knowing approach, students will not just learn about spirituality as outsiders but will get the chance to practice and experience some of the lessons addressed in theory. This kind of knowledge is rarely taught at universities. Traditionally, students had to seek this form of knowledge and find a master of a particular spiritual Sufi method (tariqa) who will then guide them through the intellectual and spiritual aspects of the tariqa. In this course offers a unique opportunity for students to combine the intellectual and spiritual dimension when studying Traditional Islamic Thought.

RELG 380: Political Islam (Religion 380, 3 credits)

The overarching goal of this course is to provide students with a historical and thematic survey of political Islamic thought, paying particular attention to the sociopolitical circumstances in which its pioneering thinkers and movements operated, how they articulated an understanding of Islam that could speak to the problems of their times and, perhaps most significantly, how they (re)interpreted Islamic texts, history and categories in order to legitimate their respective understandings of Islam. “Political Islam” is a term that has dominated public debate, particularly after momentous historical events, from the Iranian Revolution in 1979 to 9/11 to the ongoing Arab Spring. But what, exactly, is this phenomenon? Why did it arise? Who are its principal thinkers and from which segment of the population does it draw the bulk of its support? How does it organize itself? What are its national, global, social, economic and gendered demands? Indeed, to what extent can we refer to political Islam as a single movement – “it” – and, if we cannot, what binds diverse political Islamic groups together? That is, what sets them apart (despite their differences) from other political parties in Muslim societies? This course will engage these questions by offering both a historical and thematic survey of political Islamic thought.

SOCY 370: Globalization and Social Change in the Arab World (Sociology 370; 3 credits)

The process of globalization is creating new economic, political and social realities throughout the world. Arab societies are no exception. The impact there is seen in the transformation of the temporal and spatial organization of social relations and transcations, generating transcontinental or interregional flows and netowrks of activity, interaction and power. This course investigates various perspectives on globalization and social change in the Arab world. It examines the nexus between economic and political globalization and the societal consequences of globalization in different parts of the region as well as varied responses to the forces and challenges of globalization in the diverse geographic and culture parts of the Arab world.

WMST 330: Women and Society in the Arab World (Women’s Studies 330, 3 credits)

 Relations of power and privilege shape how we perceive and understand gender in the “Middle East” (and everything in the universe in fact). With this in mind, in this course we will consider how genders and sexualities have been constructed in diverse and dynamic ways across this region. Using feminist and postcolonial theories as modes of inquiry we will survey academic, journalistic, political and artistic work on gender in the context of familial, sexual, communal, economic, legal, religious, political and military relations. Endeavoring to move beyond the titillating debates about “saving Muslim women,” we will develop contextualized understandings of how the lives and societies of people in and from this region are shaped by gender.