Course Description

Course Name

Making Sense of the Middle-East (in English)

Session: VSVF1118

Hours & Credits

45 Contact Hours

Prerequisites & Language Level


Prerequisite: open to all language levels; taught in English.

Contact hours: 45

Course objective: This course aims to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of key concepts, themes and issues that have shaped and constitute the Middle East; a region with a rich and convulsed history made up of several cultures. The main objective of the course is to introduce the area through an interdisciplinary approach that will reflect its internal diversity and dynamics, combining academic readings, journalistic accounts, films and audio-visual aids on: politics, religion, culture, conflicts, gender and sociology. It is designed to help contextualize current trends and identify various interpretative frameworks.

Classes will be lecture-based, but active learning and participation will be encouraged through the discussion of assigned readings, films and student presentations.

Learning outcomes:

- Understand the core Arab-Islamic cultural, historical, and political traits and concepts

- Develop critical analyses on current events after becoming acquainted with facts, diverse opinions and data

- Strengthen skills to approach to foreign or unknown realities and thoughts from different perspectives

- Establish links between multifactorial origins and final results of different processes

Course contents:

1.- Introduction

- A first approach to Arabs and Islam

- ‘Orientalism’ vs reality

2.- Events that shaped the contemporary Middle East

- Timeline of the Middle East History

- The legacy of European colonialism in the Mashreq

3.- Ideology and nationalism

- Legitimacy, religion, politics... intertwined?

- Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism

4.- The never ending story

- Israeli-Palestinian conflict

- Timeline, leaders, setbacks, and achievements

5.- States and societies

- Political regimes and civil movements

- Major regional players

6.- Gender in the Middle East

- Women’s roles, men’s roles

- What is hijab and why do women wear it?

7.- The Arab uprisings of 2011

- Egypt is not Yemen, Tunisia is not Syria

- The "Day of Rage", Yawm al-ghadab

Course Materials

There will be both required and optional readings for each unit. Optional readings are recommended for students wanting to learn more about a topic or as assistance with the writing of assignments. All articles and documents will be either available online or provided by the instructor.

Media, films and audio-visual aids will contribute to portraying the events and issues previously examined.

A list of up-to-date resources and research Websites related to the ME will also help students to compare and contrast different, and sometimes antagonist, perspectives.


- Exodus (Otto Preminger, 1960)

- Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

- Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, 2005)

- Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad, 2005)

- Rendition (Gavin Hood, 2007)

- Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)

- Cairo 678 (Mohamed Diab, 2010)


Media (examples) Research (examples)

Audiovisual documents (example)

On Orientalism. Interview with Edward Said.

Course evaluation:

20% Tasks and attendance

40% Final Exam

30% Projects

10% Subjective Evaluation

1.- Film review

Students are expected to connect theoretical concepts examined in classes, with the events or issues depicted in the film, as well as to provide an analytical evaluation on its accuracy and/or specific approach.

2.- Short paper content and presentation evaluation:

Students will have different options regarding to topic election:

A) A specific issue in one ME country

B) A theme comparing two ME countries

C) Compare Western and Middle Eastern perspectives on a theme

Content: Does it offer accurate, high quality information, interesting and synthesized in an original manner?

Formal presentation: Is the information presented clearly and in a scholarly manner? Does the presenter use graphics, visuals and/or other supplementary materials?

Is the presentation engaging? Does the presenter actively strive to involve the class in his/her presentation? Does she/he strive to hold the attention of the class?

3.- Final examination

The final exam consists of three essay questions, allowing students to demonstrate their understanding of the course content, together with their analytical and synthetical abilities.


Final letter grades will be assigned using the following scale, expressed in terms of the percentage of total possible points earned:

10 = Matrícula de honor

9 – 9,9 = Sobresaliente

7 – 8,9 = Notable

5 – 6,9 = Aprobado

0 – 4,9 = Suspenso

Attending the course but not taking the exams = No presentado

Missing more classes than permitted = No asistencia

Please find as a reference the following grading scale conversion. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the student’s home university or institution to determine the final grade equivalencies.

Matrícula de Honor = A+

Sobresaliente = A

Notable = B

Aprobado =C

Suspenso = F

No presentado = Incomplete (attended classes but did not take final exam)

No Asistencia = Incomplete (enrolled in the course but did not attend class)


Class Attendance

Class attendance is obligatory, it is checked every class day and it is reflected in the course attendance sheet that is sent to the University.An 85% of attendance is required for the successful completion of the course. Not missing any class will be considered positively. If a student exceeds this limit, the grade in the transcript for this subject could appear as “not attended course”.

Justified absences

Medical Certificates: certificates will be considered only if issued by a physician (not notes from the family explaining the student absence). The certificates must include the exact dates for which a student should be excused for having missed classes.

Academic honesty

Students are expected to act in accordance with their university standards of conduct concerning plagiarism and academic dishonesty.

English expression

The students should express themselves -both orally and in writing- in proper, formal English. Particularly in the written partials and quizzes, as well as the presentations, formal academic writing is essential. Informal, sloppy academic writing, (misspellings, deficient syntax, etc.), will be penalized.


Courses cannot be taken as auditors, thus attendance is possible only for students enrolled in a specific class.


It is expected that students arrive to class on time and that they return directly to class after any given break. Arriving 10 minutes late (or more) and/or early class departures are considered unexcused absences and will be taken into account as half absence.


Class Protocol

Students are required to be involved in class activities. They are expected to show their preparation by participating in discussions, by asking relevant questions, being critical and analytical with the contents presented in class as well as by sharing their ideas and opinions. In class the student is required to maintain a polite demeanor always and under every circumstance. Students are asked not to eat in class and to put their cell phones on silence. With the exception of use during class presentations, laptops are not permitted in class.

Special Accommodations

Students with special needs who require reasonable modifications, special assistance or accommodations in this course (either for properly following-up classes, to take exams, etc.) should direct their request to Academic Coordination during the first week of the course.

*Course content subject to change