COVID-19: Essential Information

Ata Anzali

Associate Professor of Religion

 work(802) 443-5759
 Winter Term: By appointment
 Munroe Hall 202

I joined the Religion Department in the fall of 2012 as an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies right after receiving my PhD from the department of Religious Studies at Rice University. Prior to that, I studied at the Qom Seminary focusing on Islamic rational disciplines, including speculative mysticism and philosophy. I also received a master's degree in Islamic Philosophy and Theology from the University of Tehran. I have had an enduring interest in mysticism and esotericism as subjects of research. Simultaneously, I am deeply interested in the history of concepts as a means to reflect on religious, social, and political change and transformation, especially in the modern era. My first monograph, ‘Mysticism’ in Iran, combines these interests by tracing the history of the concept of ‘irfan in Persian literature from the seventeenth century to contemporary times. It illustrates how relevant socio-political and religious transformations in Persia, namely the conversion of its populace to a Twelver Shi’i realm under the Safavids and its transformative encounter with European modernity during the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, helped forge and re-forge the semantic field of ‘irfan until it became the term that is used nowadays almost as an equivalent to ‘mysticism’ in English. In my current research project, I focus on H. K. Iranshahr (d. 1962), an Iranian intellectual/mystic based in Europe, and how his writings influenced the formation of modern discourses of spirituality in Iran. I am particularly interested in Iranshahr as an esotericist who was heavily influenced by Theosophy and how he facilitated the transmission of some of the fundamental teachings of the occult scene in Europe to Iran. Other topics of interest are theories and methods in the study of religion, the comparative study of religion, the early history of Islam and the Qur’an, and modern religious reform movements in the Middle East.



Course List: 

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

FYSE 1436 - Mystics, Saints, and Shamans      

Mystics, Saints, and Shamans
What is the nature of a mystical experience? Are “mysticism” or “sainthood” phenomena with a universal core found equally across cultures? What is the role of cultural and social contexts in the formation of such experiences and phenomena? How exactly do we define who is a saint or a shaman? This course will be a comparative study of extraordinary experiences and manipulations of reality claimed by charismatic religious figures across time and space. We will discuss a wide variety of examples from traditionally renowned saints of the medieval Islamic world to contemporary Shamanic and New Age practices in the Americas. 3 hrs. sem. CMP CW PHL

Fall 2019

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IGST 0706 - MES Senior Thesis      

Middle East Studies Senior Thesis
(Approval Required)

Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Winter 2022, Spring 2022

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RELI 0100 - Introduction to Religion      

Introduction to Religion
Why is religion a significant element in human life and affairs? What roles does religion play in the lives of individuals and communities? And what is religion anyway? Drawing on Western and Asian traditions, we will take a comparative approach to these questions, examining how religious traditions can differ and converge. Throughout the course, we will introduce the basic vocabulary and analytical tools of the academic study of religion. We will also consider how both scholars and practitioners make sense of religion and debate its role in societies past and present. 3 hrs. lect./disc CMP PHL

Spring 2018

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RELI 0150 - The Islamic Traditions      

The Islamic Traditions
What is Islam? Is it a religion, a way of life, a civilization, or a political ideology? Was Muhammad a political leader, a warrior, or an ascetic? What is the Qur’an? How did it develop as a sacred text and how does it compare to the Bible? This course is designed to provide a platform for us to explore such questions by focusing on historical, social, and intellectual developments in the wide swath of land known as the Muslim world. Special attention will be given to early developments of the Islamic community as well as the later response of different Muslim communities to modernity. 3 hrs. lect./disc AAL MDE PHL

Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

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RELI 0252 - Islam in America      

Islam in America
In this course we will briefly consider the historical origins of Islam, its development, and essential teachings. Then we will shift our focus to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the earliest Muslims who set foot on American soil as slaves. We will then examine the fascinating role the African American community played in the spread of Islam during the twentieth century. Finally, we will examine issues of immigration, identity, gender, ethnicity, generational divide, discussing the constantly changing nature of how Islam is imagined in America both by the general public and Muslim Americans. (not open to students who have taken RELI 1032) 3 hrs. lect. AMR HIS NOR PHL

Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022

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RELI 0258 - The Qur'an      

The Qur'an
How was the Qur’an compiled, and who was involved in that process? What does the Qur’an say about Muhammad and the early community of believers? What are some of the different approaches Muslims have developed in approaching the Qur’an? How is the Qur’an different from or similar to other sacred scriptures? We will examine questions like this throughout the first half of the semester. During the second half, we will choose a specific theme such as gender, violence, law, ethics, or aesthetics, to examine the role that the Qur’an has historically played in Muslim cultures and its significance for contemporary religious life. (Juniors and Seniors by waiver) 3 hrs. lect. AAL MDE PHL

Spring 2019

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RELI 0275 - Religion and Politics in Iran      

Religion and Politics in Iran
The Islamic revolution of 1979, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, propelled Iran to the position of the arch-nemesis of the United States in the region. As a result of hostile media coverage, there are many misconceptions that pervade our understanding of post-revolutionary Iran. In this course we will try to offer a more nuanced understanding by looking deeper into the history of Iran beginning from the era of the early Islamic conquests. A focus of the course will be examining the intersection of religion and politics in the early modern, modern, and finally, contemporary Iranian society. AAL MDE PHL

Spring 2022

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RELI 0350 - Mystical Tradition of Islam      

Sufism: The Mystical Tradition of Islam
In this seminar, we will start our adventure in the Sufi world by focusing on the historical and religious contexts in which the mystical tradition of Islam developed during the early Islamic centuries. We will then turn to the so-called classical period focusing on the institutionalization of Sufism, major themes of the classical Sufi literature; fundamental teachings and practices of Sufis; and important figures like Rumi, Ibn Arabi, and Hafez. Finally, we will move to the modern period to discuss the ways in which the Sufi tradition has been re-interpreted, contested, or transformed throughout the Muslim world in response to the challenges of modernity. In all this, our main concern will be to develop an understanding of the mystical perspective that has influenced the outlook of much of the world's diverse Muslim population. Requires familiarity with the Islamic tradition. 3 hrs. sem. AAL MDE PHL

Spring 2018, Spring 2021

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RELI 0359 - Fundamentalism and Religion      

Fundamentalism and Religion
What is fundamentalism and why is it in the news so much? Is it inherently linked to intolerance, radicalism, violence, and an apocalyptic mood? We will begin by examining the historical development of fundamentalism in the early 20th century, paying special attention to its ongoing symbiotic relationship with modernism and secularism. Though we will focus more on Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, we will also examine Jewish and Christian fundamentalisms, and other regions of the world, discussing all with a comparative approach. We will see whether or not we can find common psychological, socio-economic, and/or religious patterns that can help us understand the rise of fundamentalism in the contemporary world. 3 hrs. lect CMP PHL

Spring 2020

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RELI 0400 - Seminar: Study of Religion      

Understanding Religion: Foundational Theories and Methods
In this seminar we will examine the genesis of the academic study of religion in the modern world by reading seminal texts of such founding thinkers as: Durkheim, Weber, James, Freud, Jung, and Eliade. We will analyze these and more recent theories and methods in the sociological, psychological, and comparative study of religion, discerning their assumptions and implications, strengths and weaknesses, and utilizing them in focused written assignments. We end with the study of text-critical methods, interpreting the Garden of Eden story from multiple perspectives. Open to juniors and seniors who have had two religion courses or by waiver. 3 hrs. sem.

Fall 2018, Fall 2021

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RELI 0500 - Independent Research      

Independent Research
(Approval Required)

Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022, Spring 2022

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RELI 0700 - Senior Project in Religion      

Senior Project
(Approval Required)

Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022, Spring 2022

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RELI 0701 - Senior Thesis in Religion      

Senior Research for Honors Candidates
Approval required

Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022, Spring 2022

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RELI 1075 - Religion and Politics in IRAN      

Religion and Politics in Iran
“The Islamic revolution of 1979, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, propelled Iran to the position of the arch-nemesis of the United States in the region. As a result of hostile media coverage, there is much mis-understanding that pervades our understanding of the post-revolutionary Iran. In this course we will try to improve this understanding by digging deeper in the history of Iran as well as examining various aspects of contemporary Iranian society such as media, politics, and religion.” 3 hrs. lect./sem. AAL MDE PHL WTR

Winter 2020

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Department of Religion

Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753