Short BC Course Descriptions (and Religious Quest syllabus)

The following regularly scheduled (BA/MA) courses are open to grad students from all Boston Theological Institute consortium institutions, and have no prerequisites for either undergraduate or Masters’-level students.  Additional reading and written work is normally required of graduate students in these courses.  The courses are normally repeated over a 3-year cycle, but the actual semester of upcoming offerings should be verified directly with Prof. Morris:

Cycle of Six Foundational Level III (BA/MA) Seminars, 2007-2009

Each of these six seminars is designed to provide serious students, with no previous background, a sufficient familiarity with one of these six foundational elements of Islamic civilization and religious tradition, so that they can confidently pursue further reading, study, and travel with an adequate awareness and appreciation of the relevant contexts assumed in related translations and scholarly writings.  All six seminars are based on English translations only (no language prerequisites, and no other course prerequisites), and all are open to advanced undergraduates, especially in MEIS, as well as MA and BTI consortium graduate students.  Graduate participants with relevant language skills (Arabic, Persian, etc.) will be given additional assignments and supervision at the corresponding level.

It is eventually planned to offer all six foundational seminars, after their initial offering, in a 2-year cycle of three courses each academic year.  All seminars are initially limited to 16 students (max. of 10 undergraduates), but additional places will always be available for any BTI consortium graduate students as needed.

In addition to these six seminars, the annual full-year BC undergraduate course on The Religious Quest: Comparative Perspectives (TH161-08/162-08), introducing some key aspects of Islamic spiritual and religious tradition, will be offered each year.

TH554-01 Encountering the Qur’an: Contexts and Approaches (next offered Autumn 2008)

   Using only English-language sources, this seminar focuses on developing the skills and background needed to understand and reliably interpret the Qur’an in translation.  The course will also introduce the traditional contextual materials, such as Prophetic history (Sira, hadith), recitation, “tales of the prophets”, textual development, and tafsir.  But seminar sessions will focus on close reading and interpretation of selected early (Meccan) Suras. 


TH445-01 Mystical Poetry in the Islamic Humanities (next offered Spring 2009):

Spiritual poetry and related music have for centuries been the primary cultural vehicle for the popular communication of Qur’anic teaching throughout most of the Islamic world.  Beginning with some essential background from the Qur’an and hadith, this seminar will focus on three classics of the Islamic humanities: ‘Attar’s Language of the Birds; Rumi’s Masnavi, and Hafez’s lyrical poetry.  Each participant will also study and present another major work from the Islamic humanities (in translation) from a different Muslim culture, or cognate artistic forms (film, music, literature) from contemporary spiritual settings.

TH544 Prophetic Tradition and Inspiration: Exploring the Hadith (for Autumn 2007; then Autumn 2009):

This seminar, based entirely on available English translations, is intended to provide a broad overview of the many ways that the wider corpus of Prophetic hadith has come to inform and inspire every area of Islamic life and spiritual tradition, including central religious devotions and practices; theological principles, cosmological and eschatological beliefs; forms of family, social and economic life; cultural models of proper behavior (adab), from everyday life to heroic and prophetic ideals; the interpretation of the Qur’an and sacred history; and many other later disciplines of Islamic learning.  The focus will be on acquiring an initial familiarity with the actual structure, contents, uses and implications of the most influential hadith collections (primarily Sunni, but including the limited Shiite sources available in reliable translation), as well as some particularly influential shorter selections (Nawawī, Ibn ‘Arabi). 

TH576 Pathways to God: Islamic Theologies in Context (for Spring 2008):

This seminar is intended to introduce the wide spectrum of “political theologies” and corresponding range of  alternative models of religious authority—and its resulting political, social and cultural expressions—that have competed and interacted throughout the radically different cultural contexts we encounter in Islamic history and civilization.  Beginning with early hadith and continuing to 17th-century China, this seminar takes up eight of the most significant and lastingly influential Islamic theological traditions, based on key translations of primary, classical sources.  These include apophatic theology in Ali and early Shiite thought; theology and kalam in later Ismaili and Imami Shiite tradition; Ash’arite kalam; the theological assumptions of usūl al-fiqh (“Islamic law”); main currents of philosophical theology and political philosophy; the school of Ibn ‘Arabi and the spread of Islam as a world/Asian religion (Liu Chih); and Ibn Taymiyya’s traditionalist model of radical “misology.”

Introduction to Islamic Philosophical Traditions (for Autumn 2009):

This foundational seminar will be devoted to the close reading of key figures and translated works illustrating the immense spectrum of Islamic philosophic (and related scientific and theological) traditions, while providing essential historical background and cultural contextualization for each of those traditions.  Topics covered will include the transmission and translation of the broader set of related Hellenistic scientific and practical disciplines (medicine, astronomy, mathematics); the selective assimilation of Aristotelian philosophic writings and approaches; Neo-Platonism and gnostic currents (especially in Shiite and Ismaili contexts); Farabi’s creative adaptation of political philosophy and its further development by Averroes, Avicenna, Tusi, and Ibn Khaldūn; Suhrawardī and the Illuminationist (ishrāqī) school; the spiritual philosophy of Ibn ‘Arabī and his interpreters; and Mulla Sadra’s creative synthesis of all of those earlier traditions.

Sainthood and the Remembrance of God: Liturgy, Devotional Life, Music and Spiritual Practice in the Islamic Humanities (for Spring 2009 or Autumn 2010):

This course is intended to introduce students to the wider cultural expressions and manifold local and popular contexts of Islamic spiritual and devotional life, with a common focus on the three interconnected themes of dhikr (“Remembrance” of God), walāya (“Proximity” to God)  and the awliyā’ Allāh (the “Friends of God,” including all the prophets and saints).  Students will work individually on projects drawn from a wide range of recorded musical and video sources and related textual studies, while the shared background of class readings and discussion will focus on the scriptural sources and justifications for the key forms of Islamic devotional life (Qur’an, hadith); hagiographies and exemplary figures among the awliyā’ (in Sunni, Shiite, and Sufi traditions, down to the present day); and key theological/theoretical explanations and justifications of the central religious role of walāya and related devotional and liturgical practices (pilgrimage, shrines, prayer and intercession, festivals and holy days, etc.).  

All 6 seminars are at the same level; the assigned BC course numbers do not reflect any differences of level.