RELS 2923 - Introduction to Islam (officially Introductory Topics in Islamic Religious Tradition)
University of Oklahoma
Spring 2008
Tuesdays and Thursdays 9-10:15, in Gould Hall 103.


David Vishanoff
vishanoff in the domain
(405) 325-1150
Dale Hall Tower 805 (hidden around a corner from the Religious Studies Program)
Office hours:  T and F 3-4, or by appointment.  I am also generally free right after class, and you are welcome to walk back to the office with me and talk.


This course teaches students to read and interpret thirteen different types of Muslim writings and other voices representing Islam:  the Qur’an, biographies of the Prophet Muhammad, Hadith, legal and theological and mystical writings, ritual practices, art and architecture, responses to the Christian West, Islamist writings, modernist critiques, American Muslim voices, and representations of Muslims in news media.  Background readings will provide some framework to help students make sense of each new Islamic voice, but we will focus on listening to each new primary voice in the context of what we learned from studying prior voices.  Students will construct their own interpretations of these voices through online questions, short written commentaries submitted online, class discussionss, and midterm and final exams.


Course Goals:

1) To construct inductively, and continually revise, your own mental model of basic Islamic history and concepts.

2) To employ this mental model in interpreting a wide range of Muslim voices.

3) To refine the skill of listening to others with attention and integrity, so as to come away better prepared for the difficult human task of getting to know and coming to understand Muslims (and other religious people) whom you encounter beyond the classroom through books, in the media, and in person.

Structure of the Course:

Each week we will study one or more primary texts or other voices drawn from a different aspect of Islamic life and thought.  For the first class of each week, we will attempt to study and interpret a new primary voice, with only the minimal background information provided by this web site to guide us.  Multiple choice and other types of questions will be posted on Desire2Learn / to guide you through the study of each voice; sometimes you will be asked to write a brief commentary on some aspect of a text.  You may find that your answers and comments are often very different from mine; this is to be expected as a normal part of the process of interpretation.  In class we will work through these questions together, trying to make sense of the text or other voice with what little background knowledge we have.  For the second and/or third classes of each week, we will study secondary material that sheds more light on the primary voices, and we will attempt to explain how the primary voices fit into the big picture historically and conceptually. 


Class preparation and contribution (50%): Well before each class, go to the web page for that class, and follow the instructions there.  (If you do not have reliable access to the web from home, you will need to schedule your preparation so that you can use a computer lab on campus.)  Generally you will be directed to read through the web page relating to the coming class, performing any readings that are listed, and answering any questions or performing any requested exercises such as writing a short commentary.  I plan to put most of these questions and exercises in Desire2Learn; these assignments must be completed on the D2L system, at least one hour before the class in which they are due, so that I may review them before class; otherwise they will not receive credit.  I encourage you to work with others in doing these assignments, but do not submit an answer on D2L under your username unless you have yourself studied the relevant materials and understand why you are giving that answer!  We may often discuss the D2L questions in class, and I may call on specific individuals in class to share their answers to questions.  Your preparation for and contribution to class, as reflected in your fulfillment of any homework assignments such as D2L questions and commentaries, bringing assigned texts to class, in-class exercises, and participation in class discussions (which should be well grounded in the readings), will receive a letter grade worth 50% of your course grade.

Attendance is required, because this class is not primarily about learning facts, but about interpreting voices - and while half of that interpretive work will be done outside of class, the other half will be done in class.  Class sessions are therefore a key part of the course.  I will take attendance as often as possible, and you will be allowed to miss up to four classes without penalty, after the deadline for adding classes.  I make no distinction between excused and unexcused absences.  Every absence beyond your first four will result in a reduction of your final course grade by one half of a letter grade.  For example, if your course grade would have been an A, but you miss six classes (two more than allowed), you would be down to a B.  I fully expect that you will occasionally (i.e. up to four times) be unable to attend class for one reason or another, so it is not necessary to apologize or provide any excuse for your absences; please do not ask me to treat any individual absence as "excused."  On the other hand, if a serious ongoing personal or health situation will result in five or more absences during the term, please do talk to me about it, and I will be as supportive as I can.  Absences that result from religious observances will be excused, and exams or work falling on religious holidays may be rescheduled without penalty; please let me know in advance, as soon as you are able to determine that a holiday may conflict with class.

Please note that I will usually take attendance just before class begins, so if you arrive after class has begun, you will be irrevocably recorded as absent, unless you come to the front to check in with me after class, in which case I will record you as merely late. Please don't be embarrassed about doing this; I'm not offended by your absences or lateness.  But since arriving late can be distracting to other students, I may decide to count each lateness as 1/3 of an absence; chronic lateness will therefore hurt your grade significantly.

Exams (50%): There will be one midterm exam (20%) and a final exam (30%).  The exams may include filling blanks on a copy of the course timeline, answering factual and/or interpretive multiple choice questions based on classes and readings, and writing commentaries on short new texts or previously designated texts, interpreting them in light of the background you have acquired in the course.  We may decide to make one or both of the exams open-book.

Academic honesty ("all or nothing"):  In my estimation, any form of deceit, however "mild," warrants a final course grade of F (zero).  Individual instances of suspected academic dishonesty will be referred to the appropriate University authorities, who will determine actual penalties.  In my estimation, academic dishonesty includes (but is not limited to) cheating on tests, disclosing questions or answers from online assignments or tests to others, turning in writing not created by yourself solely for this class, plagiarism (reproducing or paraphrasing someone else's words or ideas without citing them), submitting answers online without both studying the relevant materials and understanding your answers, signing in other students on attendance sheets, and even false excuses for absences or late or missed assignments.  You have no need to invent excuses, because unmet requirements will affect only my evaluation of your work; they will not affect my respect for you as a person.  False excuses can therefore only mean that you are attempting to falsify your grade, and this warrants a course grade of F.  See for information on student rights with regards to academic misconduct.

General policies:

Assignments and tests may or may not be accepted or given late, at the instructor's discretion.  Unless arranged in advance, any such lateness will be penalized one letter grade for each interval between class periods (or any fraction thereof) that elapses after the scheduled date.

Online assignments cannot be made up; please do not ask.  If you miss one, just forget it and do the next one so that you keep pace with the class.

No extra-credit work will be assigned or accepted; please do not ask.  To benefit from this class, you need to do the work as it is assigned, not do other work later.

Any student who has a disability that may prevent him or her from fully demonstrating his or her abilities should contact me personally as soon as possible; I will be very glad to make accomodations to help you participate and learn more effectively.  If you are unsure whether your should request some kind of accomodation, or what kind of accomodation might be most helpful for you, Suzette Dyer, the Director of Disability Services, will be able to help figure out what is best, and whether you should formally register with the Office of Disability Services (Goddard Health Center, Suite 166, 325-3852, TDD 325-4173).


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