Of Monsters and Marvels: Wonder in Islamic Traditions

Course Description

From acts of devotion to encounters with the strange and the monstrous, this course examines the place of wonder in Islamic traditions through readings from the Qur’an, exegesis, and prophetic traditions; literary encounters with the Arabian Nights and the Shah-nameh; travel narratives, descriptive geography, and cosmography; philosophy and theology. In addition to literary sources, we will draw on visual media through examples from the use of calligraphy, illuminated manuscripts, cartographical projections, and architectural monuments. Topics include the role of the sublime in wonder traditions (ajā’ib); conceptions of natural/unnatural orders; the discourses of alterity; the theodicy of divine design; projections of space in realms of the sacred and the profane.

Course Design

This seminar serves as a forum to discuss issues raised by the material and is designed to strengthen analytical skills through critical reading, expository writing, and oral presentations. Participation consists not only of attendance and completing the required readings, but also of active involvement in discussion. In addition to participation, there weekly written responses (1-2 paragraphs) to the readings are to be posted on Blackboard every Wednesday by 5 PM. Each student will be asked to contribute brief presentations to the class throughout the semester. There are two short papers (5-7 pages), the first on the topic of ‘natural design,’ as covered in the seminar and the readings and the second on one of the travel narratives/geographies. Finally, each student will undertake a research project, which will culminate in a final paper (12-15pages). Topics for the final paper are to be chosen by the student in consultation with the professor.

2008 Syllabus