Anthropology of the Middle East

Abla, an epic heroine. 20th century folk art.

Abla, an epic heroine. 20th century folk art - painting under glass, Tunis, Tunisia. (Image by Prof. Susan Slyomovics.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Spring 2004



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Course Description

Course Features

Course Highlights

This course features a documentary by Prof. Slyomovics, as well as a wealth of photographs and folk art, in the study materials section.

Course Description

This course examines traditional performances of the Arabic-speaking populations of the Middle East and North Africa. Starting with the history of the ways in which the West has discovered, translated and written about the Orient, we will consider how power and politics play roles in the production of culture, narrative and performance. This approach assumes that performance, verbal art, and oral literature lend themselves to spontaneous adaptation and to oblique expression of ideas and opinions whose utterance would otherwise be censorable or disruptive. In particular we will be concerned with the way traditional performance practices are affected by and respond to the consequences of modernization.

Topics include oral epic performance, sacred narrative, Koranic chant performance, the folktale, solo performance, cultural production and resistance.

Related Content

Susan Slyomovics. 21A.453 Anthropology of the Middle East. Spring 2004. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

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