Middle Eastern anthropologies: heroes and villains

03apr2018 22mei2018


‘With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Mubarak!’ In the run-up to the Arab Spring, this was the prevailing sentiment under part of the citizens of Egypt.

Simultaneously, at the other end of the political scale, the president was considered an autocratic dictator and dismissed as ‘the last Pharaoh’. Heroes, in short, are conflictive substance: one man’s hero is another man’s villain. This class will offer a typology of the various kinds of heroes (and their archetypal villains) in intellectual and popular culture in the Middle East. Departing from a set of current iconic images, we will explore the classical religious and philosophical sources (on the essence and goal of man, on proper life and conduct) in which these traditions are ultimately rooted, ranging from Qur’an and Bible, via Alfarabi and Maimonides, to modern thinkers such as Said Qutb and Abraham Joshua Heschel. We will trace how these embodied values were ritualised and monumentalised in order to shape our collective memory and structure every-day lives. Case studies will include: holy shrines in Morocco, false Messiahs and real Mahdis, the portrayal of religious leaders, religious and national martyrdom, the ideal woman (Zenobia), spin doctors and memory management, biography as hagiography, colonialism and the construction of military cemeteries, etc.

Date, time, location and price

  • Date: 3 April - 22 May 2018
  • Time: Tuesdays 15:00 - 17:00
  • Number of lectures: 8
  • Location: P.C. Hoofthuis, room 5.08
  • Price: 140 / 126 (discount price for AUV-members)

Disclaimer: For the current timetable, always consult the UvA timetable website. The Illustere School is not responsible for changes in the timetable.

Study material

Selected articles and primary sources will be provided through Blackboard.

Important information

Course type Open UvA-Course
Education Lectures
Semester/block Semester 2, block 2
Language English
Other You may only attend the lectures, not the seminars or other extras. It is not possible to partake in exams or obtain credits.
Deadline registration 26 March 2018 (subject to availability)


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Gepubliceerd door  Illustere School