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Harem Tales Fall 2014: Home

MESAS 190.004 (2986)/ASIA 190.01P (2987)

Course Description

From Prof. Ruby Lal's syllabus: The idea of a freshmen seminar is to bring together a group of interested freshmen to converse closely on a subject. In HAREM TALES, we shall collectively trace the place of women, men, and children in Islamic societies, and examine gender perspectives in the writing of Islamic history via the site of the harem.

Our seminar will consider a wide array of questions, such as: What is a harem? Are the following images invoked in your mind straight away: a reclining naked woman holding grapes and a cup of wine, attendants serving her? Or, groups of women engaging in convivial activities, bathing together, absorbed in festivity? Is the harem exactly like this? Is it merely a place for pleasure? Who inhabits it? Only women? Sometimes eunuchs? What about children? Is it possible that the harem could be one of the most sacred concepts in Islamic thought? And that it is a highly contested terrain?

By looking at a variety of primary and secondary texts, essays, films, and slides, this seminar will investigate the ‘activities’ of various harems – set in different historical times and places. We shall consider the diverse kinds of communities that inhabit the harems, their relationships, and the well-defined obligatory codes of conduct – both for the harem folk and for those who come in association with them. Of course these prescriptions vary with place and time. Part of our investigation therefore is also to trace changeability – of peoples and of spaces – and with these of the contestable character of love, sexuality, filial relationships, and everyday life in the harems.

Subject Guide

Ellen Ambrosone
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