August 29, 2005

Yavari, Neguin
Legal Culture of Islam

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

This professor is extremely knowledgeable about her subject and gives interesting lectures in what is supposed to be a seminar. The lectures are marginally related to the readings, which we ended up not really discussing in class. The problem with the class are that she picks and chooses academic theories as "truth" and only reads some of the texts critically. For example, she assigned one book called A Modern History of Islam and told us that this was our "bible" for our papers. Her reading of the text was not critical at all. She said that the book said that utopias were bad and that myths were good and that from there we could criticize all of the 20th century political Islam. This practice of making one interpretation extends to her lectures which are in a sort of fill in the blank style. For example, she will say that X happened and then Y, and then ask why. There is only one answer and so we go around the room guessing for the reason until we get to the one she wants. For example, the answer to why Saudis are frustrated is that they are caught between modernity and tradition. This is the only answer. The other problem is that she is too emotional about her opinion. For example, she spent one class explaining her theories about how religion does not and has never clashed with Islam in any way. She presented this as a historical description of the history of the whole Islamic world instead of her interpretation of her religion. She gave as the reason the lack of a creation myth in the Quran as compared with the Bible. But open up your Quran: before you, you will find a creation myth. Worse, she then went around the room trying to force everyone in the room to agree with her about this opinion and then having little fits, involving a raised, emotional voice and whining, when people disagreed. I felt intimidated. She dismissed some widely known polling data that shows that the overwhelming majority of top scientists in the US are not religious. A student that she favored piped up, "that's not true," and this was taken as more authoritative than my ability to cite a story from the Science section of the New York Times. Then in the same class, she complained about how professors of Islam who are Islamic are discriminated against because they are wrongly perceived as not being objective.
Other times, she would talk about theorists like Nietzche, Foucault or Arendt as writers of 'truth' rather than just theorists who may nor may not write in a way that relates to reality. For example, she seems to accept Nietzche's Geneology of Morals as a truth and factual description rather than a theory and then expected us to apply these ideas to our final.
She complains all the time about her colleagues in the religion department and elsewhere in the university and also about her lack of tenure. I found this unprofessional. I ended up learning a lot in the class, but it was peripheral to the main point of the class.
When I tried to apply some of her ideas in a paper in another class, I ended up being deeply embarrassed and rewrote the paper. What I did bring to the paper was a deeper knowledge of the Islam but I had to separate that from what I thought were flakey interpretations. She plays favorites in the class and complains all the time about people coming to see her for office hours.

Workload:

Heavy reading load. Concentrate on the books rather than the course pack, except any books that are out of print and therefore copied in the coursepack or left on reserve in Butler. If you aren't prepared to take her views on Foucault and Nietzche as well as A Modern History of Islam at face value and then write your papers from there, you should not take this course. This can be problemmatic for real intellectuals because A Modern History of Islam shows both utopian and mythic interpretations of Islam leading to problems. His introduction talks about bin Laden as using myth to reinterpret Islam. A final was not scheduled until the last minute, causing all sorts of problems for people's schedules. Per university regs, professors are supposed to make requirements clear in the beginning of the class. A 20-page paper is not too much work, if you don't want, but again you need to repeat all of her flakey theories or she will retaliate.