Colloquium on Major Texts of the Middle East and India

Jun 2021

If there was a nugget higher than gold, Prof. Shelley definitely deserves it. He's an amazing professor and very knowledgeable and welcoming. The course is very friendly to those of all knowledge levels and experiences. A great class that's actually discussion based and gives you a chance to explore a variety of works of literature. The reading could get somewhat overwhelming, especially if you take the course in the intensive format, but Prof. Shelley is very accommodating and is obviously more concerned with you learning and enjoying your exploration of the texts than with nitpicking about grades and deadlines. His interest in the subject matter is apparent and constantly reinforcing the themes and info from previous works. I took this course as a global core with limited experience with the texts (and as a stem major) and I'm finding the works interesting and the class to be very engaging and enriching. 11/10 take any class with this prof if you can.

Oct 2020

Elaine Van Dalen could cut off my limbs piece by piece and I would thank her for her time. She is such a nice person, clearly LOVES what she does, and is enthusiastic about literally everything she talks about. Clearly one of the best professors in the MESAAS department. My biggest criticism of her was that she would allow anyone to say anything, which included a lot of racist and orientalist perspectives which would leave the POC students in a position of defending their livelihoods and existence. It's because she wants the class to be as open as possible but it often backfires and she didn't stop any of them. But this is not to persuade anyone to NOT take her class, I would take every one of my classes with her if I could. I also want to say that she is a very fair grader, and she is kind and compassionate. Like she actually cares about you and wants to make sure your mental wellbeing is at a stable place, unlike many professors at this godforsaken institution. 100/10 would recommend. Queen.

Dec 2018

Wael Hallaq really opened my eyes and made me see Islamic civilization in a completely different way. He forced me to redefine modernity and secularism, and see it through new lenses. The content of the class was extraordinary. That being said, Hallaq's way of teaching differs greatly from other Columbia professors. Hallaq doesn't really encourage discussion, even though participation makes up large portion of the grade. It was also pretty clear who his favorites in the class were by the third week. They were those individuals that took a class with him before, and obviously had more knowledge of his philosophies. He would give them more speaking time, and clearly just liked them more. Overall, this is a must-take class at Columbia and I don't regret taking the class in the slightest. But I wish Hallaq was a bit more fair with his students.

Oct 2016

Kamaly's conversations were uninteresting and non-substantive. He is not good at directing discussion. The readings he assigns are pretty out of the blue and subject to last-minute change. They're also very inconsistent in length. There is no clear thesis or trajectory for the class. He does not write comments or grades on your essays--that's right, nothing, except maybe "good" or something short of that nature--which is annoying, lazy, and amazingly bad instruction considering there's no way to determine how you are doing and how you can improve. You will have no idea what your grade will be until you get it. His final is a "conversation" which seems sort of unstructured and strange. He is a very sensitive man, which can be a good thing, but in his case mostly inhibits him from relating to students because he seems insecure and a bit condescending.

Apr 2012

Professor Hallaq's class was a pleasure. Instead of trying to teach Indian texts, which are outside his speciality, he taught only Islamic texts, which gave an appreciated focus to the class. Just imagine a professor talking about Indian epics when they've never studied a word of Sanskrit. In class discussions, he struck me as the most intellectually honest professor I've met at Columbia. He is himself from a Christian family, but is obviously very invested in the subject of Islamic law, and he did not sidestep, evade, or otherwise shut down students who came to the class with an anti-Islamic or atheist position. Some discussions began with comments like, "Do you think the Quranic injunctions against non-Muslims are barbaric and untenable in the modern world?" Hallaq's responses always had a definite ideological underpinning, but he was respectful of students and engaged with their often difficult questions in a way that impressed me. We were fortunate to have some genuine ideological diversity in the class, and the professor's moderation of the class discussions made it one of my two favorite classes so far at Columbia. My only significant issue with the class was the length of some of the readings. I was ready to do a lot of reading for the seminar, but on two different weeks we were assigned 500ish-page medieval Islamic scientific treatises (the Muqaddimah and Travels of ibn Batutta). These were murderous reads. I would have preferred to have read selections or have the books read over two weeks. If you take the class, expect an intense workload. Professor Hallaq is strict about deadlines and will read and critically evaluate everything you write for the class. He sent a number of weekly responses back to students as being inadequate. It's definitely worth it, but don't take the class if you're going to be overworked that semester and can't devote serious effort to the readings and essays.

Sep 2011

I honestly think the majority of the *positive* posts are written by Kamaly himself. The man never responded to emails. I took this class in Spring 2010 and it was so horrible. Time in his class never seemed to be enough. Everything was discussed superficially. If you have no basic idea about a certain theme (say the Indian Gods, something I struggled with), you will be lost. Luckily, we had a great TA who understood how horrible Kamaly was, so that was great. People always complained from his grading, I managed to be relatively lucky.

May 2011

Major Texts with Kamaly was kind of a mixed bag. Some days were great, other days were so boring I would rather have been watching paint dry. While not the most engaging professor, Kamaly can be very encouraging when it comes to student comments and presentations. He also provides good background information on the texts. Some weekly reading assignments were way WAY too lengthy given the short amount of time we had to read them, and the superficial ways in which we discussed them. Kamaly usually sticks to broad themes and rarely delves into close reading, which can make your 200-300 pages of reading seem kind of pointless. In addition, those who would like to consider the texts as documents of their respective times and cultures might be disappointed by Kamaly's insistence on looking at things through the lens of the present, and what the contemporary implications of the texts might be. I personally found this to be somewhat condescending, as if he were pandering to us youngsters who only care/know about modern times, but I could see how others found this illuminating. We often strayed from the syllabus with little to no warning, and general expectations for the class were not made very clear at any point. For example, we were encouraged to post questions on courseworks and to give a presentation, but neither of these conditions appeared on the syllabus, nor were they uniformly practiced. Overall, Kamaly is a nice guy who cares about these texts, but whose time would probably be best spent outside the classroom.

May 2011

Mr. Kamaly is far and away the best teacher I've had at Columbia, and I've had mostly real good ones. He is absolutely brilliant. Every class he says things so novel, so remarkable, I would leave wanting to do much more than I'd done, which was already a lot. He is better read and more knowledgeable than anyone else I've had class with. He has insights into ordinary and unknown things. And he is one of the kindest people I've ever met.

May 2010

I am not sure how the person below managed to say all those pleasant things about Kamaly. We were lucky enough to have a TA who did the majority of the grading so that isn't really my complain. However, I think its quite abnormal when the man does not respond to ANY EMAILS students send. I had him for major texts of India and the Middle East.. Most atrocious experience of all times. He went off tangent and said nothing substantial in class. Horrible. Horrible.. HORRIBLE.

Jan 2010

I must write a review for Prof. McDermott, as she was honestly one of the nicest, most helpful, and engaging professors I've had in my years here. Along with Prof. Cachia, the other professor for this course, she led the class through many interesting discussions over some great texts from Indian and Middle Eastern cultures. The discussions were very engaging, and her feedback was always enlightening. She was very approachable when it came to papers and class discussions and gave us very clear and detailed guidelines for every part of the course. She made the final a breeze and the class was something I looked forward to every week. I would definitely recommend this class and definitely with Prof. McDermott!

May 2009

Absolutely terrible. As stated in other reviews, Nanor had zero knowledge of the subject matter, and couldn't be bothered to do any research before class. She simply led us through a wild goose chase of wordplay that would have strained even the most generous of English majors, and dumped post-colonialist, Freudian BS in our laps for two hours every week. Add that to a self-important air and an unwillingness to return emails or meet outside of class, and you have yourself a real winner. Avoid at all costs.

May 2009

It's a shame that this class turned out as badly as it did. I took the other AHUM (China/Korea/Japan) and it was a pleasure. The professor knew her stuff and the students got some lively debates going that never got obnoxious the way they always did in Lit Hum. Kenderian is not a fan of the discussion. Each week we were treated to 2 hours of her Q&A sessions: she asks question, a student answers. She asks new question. Student answers. Questions along the line of "how is the Sun like eyes?" which she seemed to think warranted a thirty minute discussion that culminated in her triumphant, "The reason we discussed that was to prove that this text isn't as contradictory as you thought!" This wouldn't even be a good point to make if anybody had been making this claim. Nobody signed up for this class so they could have the value of the texts proven to them, especially in such an inane manner. It was frustrating to be treated like the enemy by our own professor. If she had looked at us as willing, fairly intelligent individuals happy to discuss the texts, maybe she would have at least given us an inch. Instead, the majority of the questions were along the lines of, "How would you describe this?" which meant, "What touchy-feely word am I thinking of that describes this?" The woman might as well hold a playing card up backwards and have us guess it; at least we have a 1/52 chance and it's an admitted waste of time. On the other hand, by the end of the semester, we had figured out that it was probably going to be phallus, reproduction, or memory. So I guess that narrowed the odds. She cut the Middle Eastern texts from the syllabus so we could go more "in depth" with the Indian texts. 30 minute sun-eye comparisons are apparently college-level in depth discussions. (Of course then she dumped Muslim texts on us at the end of the semester without any lead-up readings which of course infantalized the discussions once again to AP English imagery, imagery that could be valid and interesting topics if she bothered to contextualize beyond reading aloud an awkward translation of a Rumi poem.) If Kenderian has done any sort of supplemental or secondary reading on the material, she doesn't bring it up in class. In fact, she gives the impression that she has never looked at these texts until three days before class, when she decided to let us know what pages to read-- no getting your work done ahead of time in this class-- and this fact of unfamiliarity plus her status as professor were still not enough to encourage her to do a little research. The TA, who knew this stuff, spent the whole time looking resigned to her fate. Anybody who tried to raise a point, complication, argument, or ask a question was ignored. God forbid anyone try to argue against Nanor's old standby: reproduction and women and stuff. Or something. As with any class, these are complicated, interesting texts that Nanor reduced to discussions of women, phallic symbols, and reproduction. Sure, sometimes these are valid points but these aren't the only valid points. I hate to imagine that we spent two hours a week letting Nanor take out the ticking of her biological clock on us. She is obviously a very smart person and the texts were great but she is a disaster in a seminar; I can imagine she would give a good, if reductive, lecture on something, but that wasn't why we were here. This class has a good format and could have been great but not if she's anywhere near it. I took this class out of personal interest and was really disappointed, so I feel really bad for the kids who had to take it for credit or departmental requirements.

Mar 2009

This class is a travesty of Columbia Education. First and foremost, Nanor has no idea what the heck she's talking about. I have taken two classes about India, and I know more than she does about the texts. For some reason, she decided to only teach Indian texts (despite the title of the course) and she clearly doesn't know them. She doesn't know Sanskrit or the history of the period, so she can't make any intelligent claims about the context of the works. Not only that, but she picks the most sickening translations of the works I have ever seen. She tries to pick plot-based translations of beautiful epics, and completely ruins them. Its the biggest waste of two hours a week I've ever seen. She tries to get us to come to her random conclusions by asking open ended leads that make no sense to anyone, so we all just stare blankly - sometimes the answer will be an obvious statement that she just wanted restated, sometimes its some literary bullshit no one would have been able to get from her question. DONT TAKE THIS CLASS WITH NANOR IF YOU VALUE YOUR TIME. I hope she never teaches a class on India again.

Jan 2009

Nanor is one of the newest hires from MEALAC, which might be trying to bring in some new blood following their previous controversies. That might sound like a negative, but Nanor's Armenian blood flows strong in this what often seemed like an intense Lit Hum version of the ME. I was unsure of the class, especially after her strong and extremely intelligent opening remarks in the 10 person class, but I realized that she opened up my eyes to each text every week. She would help steer one of the most intellectual conversations probably at the university each week, and made this class often exhilarating. Apparently she graded the first paper roughly, but I did well on it and then only continued to improve throughout the class. Stick with her for a couple weeks if you are unsure—and then judge if you like the class.

Jan 2007

Wonderful. A great professor and a really nice guy. Professor Smith taught the first half of the course, focusing on the major texts of India, while Pierre Cachia (an incredibly knowledgeable scholar of Arabic and the sweetest old man in the world) covered Middle Eastern texts. Smith accompanied the already-fascinating texts with ancient stories and snippets of Sanskrit, making the subject come alive and giving us a real sense of the cultural and historical setting that gave rise to works like the Bhagavad Gita and Buddhist writings. He encouraged discussion but never put anyone on the spot. Even on days when I didn't do the reading, I learned something fascinating (but of course it was better when I did read, because Smith was great at unlocking and supplementing the texts with really cool little details). In short, I had a wonderful time in this class. Smith brought warmth and a sense of humor to an interesting topic about which I'd known nothing before. Highly recommended.

Jan 2007

This class was cotaught with Pierre Cachia. Once a week, for 1:50. The first half of the semester was Indian texts, the second half was Arabic texts. Every day one to three students would lead the discussion on the book(s) that we read for that class. The Professors would provide a general introduction to the text, but were generally rather hands off during the actual discussion of the book. Both of the professors are really nice and willing to help you.

Apr 2006

I was a mere first semester freshmen when i was placed in beth's section, and i had no idea what a great t.a. she really was until i took other courses and had other t.a's. the other t.a's i've had have all been pretty good, but none have met the standard beth set my first semester. she is very supportive of student ideas and directs conversation well. she is enthusiastic about the subject matter and makes an already exciting topic even more fun to learn. take her section if you can!

Dec 2005

She clearly knows her stuff, and will provide historical context and outside information when necessary, but makes it clear that the discussion rests primarily on what we consider important. Though she appears a bit formal at times (she requests that emails must start with "Dear Teena" as opposed to "Hey" or "Hi"), she is very approachable both inside and outside of class. (Especially concerning papers and presentations.) Everyone comes away with good grades at the end, so the focus of the class is on grasping each individual text so you can connect it to the previous and later ones covered in the class.

Dec 2005

Ms. Purohit is a young graduate student who is quite intelligent. The class met only once a week for 2 hours, was 4 credits worth, and satisfied a Major Cultures requirement for the College Core - yea it was a good deal. You really don't need to read all the texts in this class to do well, but you need to be able to sound like you know what you're talking about in discussion (i.e: same as every other humanities class), since if you don't participate it's glaringly obvious you didn't even open the book. There are a lot of books to read, something like one text due each week, so try to get to Butler soon and borrow them all at the beginning of the semester or get them off a friend who took the class in the past. Logistically, there were 2 papers and an oral final, and she graded fairly leniently on the papers, with the oral final being a breeze if you just focus on one theme throughout the works for the whole 5-10 mins. So it's not a hard class (although some of your classmates with be grade-A weirdos), the texts are actually pretty awesome, and she's not all bad either.

Jan 2005

Professor DeBary may be old and a little hard of hearing at times, but he knows the material forwards and backwards. He begins each class with an introduction to the following week's reading and then has a couple of students present on the current week's reading before opening up the room to class discussion. Prof. DeBary does a good job trying to cover the major points from these huge and unfamiliar (to most of us) texts. However, the class discussions often lack direction. Professor DeBary may make the connection between one person's comment and the text, but that doesn't mean the class always gets it, and this is where the class begins to get frustrating. Prof. DeBary can also be a little intimidating at first, but if you show a genuine interest in the material (i.e. you actually do the reading), the class can be very rewarding. Overall, though, this class is a very good introduction to these texts, and if Professor DeBary can be blamed for anything, it is for trying to cover too much in such a short time period. As to DeBary's supposedly mysoginistic tendencies, I think these allegations are totally unfounded. The simple truth is that many of these ancient texts do not explicitly focus on women or discuss their subordinate status in society. This is essentially a literature course and thus, it seems unreasonable to expect Prof. DeBary to spend what little time we have in class discussing something not actually in the texts since there is so much other information to cover. That said, Professor DeBary did bring the role of women up on several occassions when it was appropriate.

Aug 2004

A course in the "classic" texts of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. If you liked Lit Hum and need to fill the major cultures requirement, this is a great class. My section met once a week only so it was a true seminar. Each week a different set of three students ran the seminar. Get involved in the class and when its your turn to lead, be as thorough as you can. She's a pretty tough grader, but extremely fair as she "bumps" students up if they're on the borderline and gives students' later grades more weight if they're drastically better. Extremely approachable.

May 2003

She is a very good teacher who clearly knows a lot about the materials in the class. You can send her drafts of the papers and she will give you comments, which is an invaluable boon. There are only two papers and an oral final, which is really nice as it is a twenty-minute conversation with the professor. The only problem is she can throw curveball questions at you that you can't really bs your way out of like if it was an essay question and you had an hour and a half to write an essay about it. Attendance is crucial.

May 2003

If you're interested in old [for the most part] religious literature of South Asia and the Middle East, take this course. Bard, despite being blond-haired and blue-eyed, gives the impression of having lived in the subcontinent for a long time--any type of ethnic name, no matter what the ethnicity--instantly acquires an Indian accent. She put together an extremely comprehensive syllabus, never required more reading than was necessary, although much of the literature was interesting enough that I didn't find myself counting page numbers, and overall conducted the seminar in an efficient and educational manner. The class is set up so that two students present the assigned reading for each week and lead a discussion. Bard holds a meeting with the students beforehand, so no one is forced to walk in struglling with the material. She interjects with helpful comments and good questions throughout the class, and overall the semester went very smoothly. Although the course was not inspirational, it was well run/taught, and the readings were great (plus I probably wouldn't have read them had it not been for the course). I'd definitely reccommend the class because it was interesting and not overly-challenging. Caveat: She does not give a bathroom break in-between the two hours, so unless you want to interrupt class, go beforehand.

Nov 2002

Professor Wm Theodore de Bary may be a throwback to yesteryear, but he is no fossil. His sharp eyes will spend the first two weeks of class picking out the intellectually inferior, and he won't hesitate to cut them off for the rest of the semester. Some professors tolerate self-important fools- de Bary is not one of those professors. His reading assignments rival those of Lit-hum, and the classes do tend to drag (especially in the second hour); however, it isn't necessary to read many of the books. Just listen to the person presenting in class (if they do a decent job), or to de Bary's response (if they don't), and you'll get the gist of the works. Having said that, there are quite a few books worth reading ("al Hallaj" and "Monkey" spring to mind). Grading is not tough; neither de Bary or the TA mark the papers, and the final exam is an oral discussion. I took the year-long sequence and enjoyed it immensely. I highly recommend it to anyone who can tolerate an hour of boredom per week.