The course challenges the “Orientalist” narratives in the West about women’s passive role in the Middle Eastern and North African societies by analyzing the contemporary studies exploring women’s engagement in nationalist movements and political processes, as well as women’s responses to war, occupation and conflicts. A central question in our seminar will be: what is the role of religion and culture in influencing gender issues. A number of theories and approaches will be studied to highlight these overarching factors that are intertwined together in a manner that demands closer understanding of the challenges facing women in patriarchal societies. Examining the oscillation between diversity and similarities in women’s active participation in the nationalist movements from the early 20th century to the 21stcentury through case studies of Egypt, Iran, and Palestine and other countries will help contextualize the factors that are empowering women in these cases while there could be different factors in other cases.
The course will answer questions about the challenges of globalization and whether the "veil" which emerged in the 21st century became a significant symbol of Muslim identity and nationalism or is the 'veil' a symbol of oppression and submission or as the scholar Leila Ahmed emphasized in her book ‘’The Quiet Revolution’’ that ……’the veil as some people described it was returning back to a more authentically and culturally true way of life. However the question that the course will be addressing is whether such religious symbols obstruct women from being agents of change in their societies.
The course will be taught as a seminar to engage participants in critical thinking and analytical understanding of the multilayered complex nature of the gender issues in the Middle East and North Africa where religion seems to be playing a critical role that determines many of the behavioral practices in these patriarchal societies yet women were able to defy the social codes and became engaged and were capable of defying all conservative norms.