May 19, 2010

Diagne, Souleymane Silver_nugget
[PHIL G4740] Islamic Philosophy

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

This class was supposed to be a seminar, but it turned out to have about 50 students in it, half of whom were grad students, so the set up and grading system were kind of different than your usual lecture or seminar. Two grad students would present the week's reading during the first half of every class, and the second half would be devoted to lecturing and questions.

It was generally an excellent syllabus for an overview of Islamic Philosophy. Diagne did a really good job of weaving together recurring themes. So even though "Islamic Philosophy" sounds a little vague and unwieldy, I definitely felt like the syllabus was both cohesive and comprehensive. The reading was pretty manageable, and because the grad student presentations basically summarized the texts and bullet pointed key ideas, you didn't really have to read everything to get a fairly good idea of what was going on.

I found the participation aspect of the class kind of strange though. Diagne definitely tried to encourage students to ask questions, and mentioned that participation and attendance were part of the grade. But because the class was so large, it was kind of difficult to talk much/ at all. He did call attendance at the beginning of every class and could match every name to a face by around half-way through the semester, which is kind of impressive (given that most professors don't even bother with names names in a 50-person class).

As a professor, Diagne was really sweet, had an awesome sense of humor and was never without a huge smile on his face. He was really approachable and extremely down to earth, despite being extraordinarily smart and brilliantly versed in every philosopher we read. He also made it really easy to relate the Islamic philosophers to philosophers from CC, so everything was framed in the larger philosophical context. At the same time, because he knew the texts so well, there were always opportunities for close and intertextual readings.


I think the grad students were graded on their presentations and a final project of some sort. The undergrads were graded on a midterm paper and a final paper of about 10 pages each. The papers were graded by the TA, so going to his office hours definitely helped. Diagne said that he would add "a point" (to what, I'm not sure - I suppose participation point) for perfect attendance, and also apparently factored participation in somehow, but I'm not sure of the exact distribution.