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Semiotics of al-Barzakh: The Grammars of the End of Days and Horizons of Possibility

CHUM 305
Fall 2023
Section: 01  
Crosslisting: ANTH 305, RELI 300
Course Cluster and Certificates: African Studies, African Studies Minor, Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory Certificate

This course builds from the Islamic eschatological concept of "al-Barzakh" as it has been taken up in anthropological theories, as well as in Islamic thought more generally, with careful attention to the term's semiotic transformations and significations. It does so in order to explore both how the term describes an earthly place and an eschatological hereafter as well as a theoretical and practical alternative to the notion of the liminal personhood.

Since at least the 12th century, thinkers have explored the Islamic concept of al-Barzakh to explore the connection between the earthly present and the heavenly hereafter and the scales of judgment in between. This term, somewhat akin to Christian notion of purgatory or limbo, appears only three times in the Qur'an. It is explained as being like the productive firmament that separates salt and sweet water. In places like Morocco, this is commonly interpreted as referring to the Strait of Gibraltar and the underwater isthmus that separates and produces the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Strait of Gibraltar.

We will read both contemporary scholarly apprehensions of this term and its various applications in Muslim-majority contexts such as Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, and Iran--often ethnographic--as well as Islamic philosophy that attempts to bring the concept into relation with earthly personhood. In our approach, we will move through a variety of scholarly genres and epochs in order to trace the genealogies of present-day popular invocations of the term as we contrast it with other apprehensions of the eschatological and the liminal.

We will work to understand how this term contains space for both an imagination of everyday life as well as the boundary-generating difference marking here and there, then and now, by looking at how the term is evoked by artists, scholars, religious adherents, psychoanalysts, and border crossers. As we go along, we will pay special attention to the languages of belonging and difference evoked by this term and attend to how an anthropological approach to semiotics might elucidate new grammars of community and horizons of possibility that exist alongside notions of the liminal, uncanny, dreaming, the hereafter, and the imagination of the end of days.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA CHUM
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode: Student Option
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (AFST-MN)(ANTH)(CSCT)(MEST-MN)(RELI-MN)(RELI)
Past Enrollment Probability: 90% or above

Last Updated on JUN-18-2024
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