Introduction to Major Topics in the Civilizations of the Middle East and India

Feb 2007

I think Professor Busch did not say a single positive thing about Hindus the whole semester, and kept criticizing implicitly their practices, beliefs, and even origins. I don't understand why she would be teaching a course on India when she can't seem to present a single good quality about Hinduism. Although tries to come off as impartial, is a very biased Professor.

May 2006

Allison covered the India half of the course. I was extremely dissapointed in this course and would recommend taking something else for major cultures. Allison seemed like a very nice woman and a very knowledgable professor. Unfortunately, though she clearly wanted it to be a good class, she just did not know how to run a lecture or structure this sort of class. The lectures were boring to the point of being painful and the reading were plentiful, scattered and also often very boring. I think with a little experience or a more specialized/smaller class, Allison could be a tremendous professor. Unfortunately, this class and Allison specifically were pretty terrible.

Mar 2006

I had high hopes for the India unit of the intro to MELAC class, but I was utterly disappointed. I felt as though everything we talked about was depressing and pessimistic, giving the entire class a very negative view of the country, its culture, and its religion. The midterm was like something out of middle school, except with an Ivy League twist. From the approximately ninety readings we had done in the course, we had text identification on the midterm. While some questions asked what the significance of the passage was, others simply asked "who wrote this?" It was not a comprehensive exam, but rather a ridiculous attempt to see whether people had done the readings. Even IF you'd done the readings, committing the ninety authors to memory based upon readngs that are all very similar is not a productive exercise. Due to the atrocity of a midterm, the curve was significant--an entire letter grade--but students were still left with D's. Basically they ahd to curve the exam so that people wouldn't fail. This class was Busch's first class she'd ever taught at Columbia. I feel like she has a lot of potential, especially if yo uwere to take a class of hers that was smaller and more focused.

Jan 2005

Professor Bakhle is the most engaging speaker I have ever encountered, and that includes years of experience in competitive oratorical and debate competitions. She is naturally an amazing speaker. Her lectures are fierce and brilliant. You simply do not take your eyes off of her when she is speaking. Granted, she is a bit theatrical--she struts across the stage before making an important statement--but that only makes things more interesting. Every single lecture in the Topics course was packed with information. You were inundated with insanely interesting facts, theories, themes, etc etc. I absolutely loved it. I couldn't get enough of watching Bakhle. I learned so much about Indian history in half a semester that I probably know more than all of my Indian friends. I don't think this course will be offered again, but you would be foolish not to at least sit in on a lecture by Prof Bakhle.

Dec 2004

Frankly, I don't understand the hype. Issues of political bias aside, Massad simply wasn't a very good professor. His lecturing was scattershot and rambling, especially compared to Janaki Bakhle, who taught the first half of the class. For example, our lecture about (ostentiably) Saudi Arabia was around 20 minutes of discussion as to whether or not the author of our assigned reading was an Orientalist (a term you'll grow thoroughly sick of during the course) and a good 45 minutes of ranting about Israel. He was perfectly courteous to me when I approached him after class with some questions that could be interpreted as an attack, which I appreciate greatly. However, that can't make up for the unfocused, rambling lectures and the bizarre nature of the readings. Can you imagine a class on abortion where the only assigned reading was Planned Parenthood pamphlets? Well, Professor Massad's only assigned reading on Zionism/Israel was the classic anti-Zionist work "Israel: A Colonial Settler State?" by Maxime Rodinson. The class started with the birth of Islam as if all of the important events that took place in the MIddle East--the rise and fall of the Persian Empire, the birth of Judaism, the birth of Christianity--hell, the birth of civilisation! paled in significance before Islam. All in all, Professor Massad seems to be the darling of the Middle Eastern professors around the country, but I simply don't understand. Maybe if I take some of his other courses I'll see what the big deal is, but this intro course, in my opinion, was merely a disorganized, wavering series of rambles from a mediocre academic.

Nov 2004

Professor Bakhle is, to say the least, a formidable woman. Her lecture style is impeccable, delivering enormous amounts of information in a fashion easy to assimilate and remember. True, she's a bit of a hard-ass, and clearly takes herself pretty seriously (make sure your cell phone/computer is off before class starts, don't let yourself fall asleep, and don't be late). But she more than makes up with it with her engaging method of speaking and laser-like focus on her subject. That said, I felt there was a fair degree of bias on her part against what she labelled as "Hindu nationalist histories" (a concept that was never actually explained) or "imperialist" histories, and in favor of Muslims and the Mughal Empire in general. However, compared to the other professors in the department, she's a shining beacon of objectivity. Overall, an excellent professor.

May 2004

Professor Massad is, quite simply, the most influential teacher i've had at columbia. Do not buy the "brainwashing" salvo you read below, but instead know that this is a teacher who's brilliance is unmistakable. Take his class (any of them) if you want to be pushed to thought, to be stirred, to challenge little prepackaged ideas. No differently than most other professors, he has a political opinion, but he refreshingly makes no efforts to hide it. Anyone with half a brain will tell you that he does not marshall his will over his students, but instead allows for real substantial debate and discussion in class. Come looking to think seriously about issues in the middle east like nationalism, zionism, women, human rights, and violence and Massad will not dissappoint.

May 2004

I want to disagree with the last reviewer and say that of all the classes I took this semester, I learned most in Dabashi's class. His tangential ramblings are like gold, and you will learn simply by sitting there listening to him deconstruct something like "Spider-Man." He does come off as pretty caustic and seems to enjoy silencing students, but he is also a very nice person. He often smiles and says funny things. But yes, if you are not a comp lit major or a freshman, do not take this class--not because it will be too difficult for you but because you are douche for wanting to take a seminar only sophomore majors are supposed to take. But Dabashi is AWESOME, so take other classes offered by him, even if it has nothing to do with your major.

Sep 2003

The most prevalent word on this page describing this woman is "engaging," and it is no lie. Her lectures are FIERCELY engaging- I don't take my eyes off her when she speaks. She is by far one of the most incredible professors here. Take anything this woman offers. I personally am going to take "Gandhi's India" this spring, just to expose myself to this woman's genius again.

Aug 2003

I want to have JANAKI BAKHLE'S children (except she's already married). She is so UNBELIEVABLY BRILLIANT and ENGAGING, you can't help but have a crush on her. Her lectures are informative, funny, and she never goes off on tangents. She is probably the best professor I will have had at Columbia by the time I graduate - certainly the best to date. She's also a nice person who bothers to get to know her students by name - in fact, one day I sat in a seat away from where I usually sat, and I raised my hand for a question and she said "ah, Michael, I thought maybe you hadn't come today, you're not where you usually sit." And I hadn't gone to talk to her privately yet or anything, just one email question - I have no idea how she knew my name and where I sat. Finally, she is just plain NICE!

Jan 2003

A wonderful professor. Very organized, concise, empathetic, and caring. I really enjoyed the course and found it to be incredibly relevant and informative, even though I took it initially just to fulfill the major culture's requirement. The combination of the two women profs. is dynamic and keeps you listening and involved. Bad part was a TA who gave out a slew of failing grades; yes, failing--I kid you not---on term papers that were quite competent. Also, he gave really low grades--compared to the other TA's--on the midterms. Totally frustrating to have other TAs handing out easy A's, while those my lone,sorry section were getting their GPAs kicked for no particular reason. Soured my experience in an otherwise fine choice for the MC requirement.

Jan 2003

Prof. Bakhle is one of the best lecturers I've had at Columbia. She is a compelling and capable speaker (and not so hard to look at, either) and her dynamic stage presence makes it hard to fall asleep in her lectures--that, and the fact that she will immediately notice you and reprimand you for doing so, no matter how large the class. Our class did have the difficulty that she often assumed we understood more of the fundmentals of South Asian history than many of us did (think about an American citizen trying to pick up the story of American history for a classroom of foreigners with the Civil War) but as the semester went on her lectures became more organized and will quite likely be better overall the next time she teaches the course.

Jan 2003

I'm not sure how I would feel about taking a class with just Prof. Kassab teaching, but her teaching team with Prof. Bakhle makes for a decent experience (although it always seemed that Kassab looked a bit resentful of the way Bakhle always took over neutral tasks like announcements about the class). Unlike Bakhle's sweeping narratives about South Asian history and culture, Kassab gave very concise, focused lectures, often hinging them on conflicting viewpoints presented in two or three articles on the same topic, which proved useful in the "Discuss! Have an opinion! Now!" recitiations. However, her precision was also sometimes frustrating since not having a background in Middle Eastern history I often felt completely without context for these discussions. But, the point is, she basically went over the readings in class and presented several valid ways to think about them, which were useful of course to spit back on papers and the exam essays. And, she even showed a video in lecture once. Can you do better?

Dec 2002

Scary as hell during add/drop week. Then nicens up plenty. She is evidently brilliant but the class is a beeyatch. Reading, reading and more reading. Also she is a historian while the professor who teaches the class with her (Elizabeth Kassab) is a philsopher, and the two styles clash like a mutha. It was also a bit disturbing how no one had any idea what their grades were until they got them. Midterms were out of 20 and the Final was out of 50. No one knows about curves, etc. At least it fulfilled the Major Cultures requirement.

Dec 2002

Nice but her style is a bit dry. The class itself was very interesting as it was split between her and Janaki Bakhle.

Dec 2002

Professor Bakhle is an amazing professor. She is worth taking th class even if one isnt interested in asian civ! her style of teaching is involving the students in discussions and make them think on their own. she is an authority and knows who is sleeping in the lecture...i really enjoyed her class!

Nov 2002

Professor Kassab is a passionate teacher with a good sense of the material she lectures on, and how it is relevant to the present day. I found her lectures to be really enjoyable, as they were often fused with a profound sensitivity and empathy (without much political bias) that is often hard to find. The course can be a bit confusing (it's taught topically not chronologically, spending half the time in each region). Some people are really engaged by the material; others are bored stiff. Ultimately your satisfaction of the course will be dependant on your interest in the reading and course material, no matter how much good Professor Kassab can do, or how much the TAs may throw you off.

Jun 2002

Kassab (who teaches the Mid. E. half of the class) herself isn't so bad, but this class is. It's incredibly boring and general. You will learn nothing. And you'll have to go to a section too (avoid George Fiske!!!). I think it would be hard not to do well in this class, but it's not worth the pain. (NB - I think Kassab may just be visiting for a semester or something.)

Jun 2002

Freitag (who does the Indian half of the class) isn't so bad, I think, but I'd avoid this class like the plague. I think Freitag knows his stuff and might be interesting given a more specific topic and students who care. Unfortunately, this class is incredibly general - you will learn absolutely nothing - and the profs are always met with a sea of bored faces (and the occasional loud snoring, of course). My instinct is that Freitag is a pretty good person and would be happy to work personally with students, but that didn't happen in this class 'cause we had TAs (avoid George Fiske at all costs!!).

Jun 2002

HORRIBLE!! Avoid this man at all costs. George is actually a nice guy in person, but his section was an incredibly painful experience. He asks horrible questions that are impossible to answer and have nothing to do with the stuff you're supposed to be learning. We wasted tons of time talking about "what is history?" and "what is national history?'" (actually, most of the time was wasted sitting there waiting for someone to say something). On the rare occasion when he actually teaches, George literally reads (too fast) a paper he wrote and which is actually intended to be confusing (he told us so). The class itself was pretty bad, but this section was unspeakably awful. I would not wish this man's teaching on my worst enemy (and I spoke with a number of people in the section who all agreed).

May 2002

freitag is evil. he doesnt answer student email and seemed to hate us all. and he is boring. but the class is easy.

May 2002

This class is hell. a lot of people take it because it's an easy way to fulfill a requirement (major cultures at CC and SEAS and cultures in comparison at BC) but it's so boring. kassab seems to think all her students are idiots and finds it necessary to define words like, "monotheism," "reformation" and ask if we know what happened in 1492. but you get an A.