Professor Hossein Bashiriyeh - Department of Political Science

You have been teaching a broad range of courses on the Middle East. Can you please give our readers some information about these courses?

Recently and currently, I have been teaching the following six courses: Revolutions in the Middle East, Democratization in the Muslim World, Islamism and Islamist Movements, History of Islamic Political Thought, Middle Eastern Political Systems, and Social Theory and the Middle East (Graduate). I used to teach two general courses a few years ago, which were Transitions to Democracy and Comparative Revolutions, but now I am only focusing on the Middle East and Islam. I think of these courses as both MES and PSC courses, because I try to use and apply theoretical and analytical frameworks from political science to explain and clarify Middle Eastern or Islamic topics and subjects. Each of the courses begins with theories and conceptual frameworks for this purpose. (For instance, a review of theories of revolution, of democratization, of determinants of political systems, of sociology of extremist movements, and of state-religion relations).

I initiated four of the above courses, mainly because I thought they would be useful and beneficial for MES, PSC, IR students. One of them was Revolutions in the Middle East. Up until 2011, the course was mostly focused on the previous generation of revolutions. But, after 2011, I changed the syllabus entirely and decided to focus only on the recent wave of political revolu- tions and instability in the region. I also developed the course on Democratization in the Muslim World out of the previous course on Transitions to Democracy in order to focus particularly on experiences of democratization in Asia.

Teaching these various courses, I have been trying to look at the same region from various angles (like revolutions, Islamiza- tion, democratization) so that the students would hopefully get a more comprehensive perspective. I give the same weight and importance to the various courses I teach because eventually they are complementary. Even so, I find teaching courses on Islam more stimulating because of the students’ greater interest in the subjects. In particular, the course on Islamism and Islamist Movements has attracted students from many different majors.

Any suggestions for those who plan to teach courses in MES and how to enhance knowledge about the region, especially in an impartial way?

My general advice to future teachers of Middle Eastern politics would be of course to avoid generalizations and to make neces- sary distinctions in discussing any subject; a basic task of all scholarly work is of course to begin with typology, classification, divisions, etc., which would enable us to make more exact statements. For instance, sometimes people speak of Islamism and Islamic fundamentalism as a monolithic phenomenon, disregarding or neglecting very important trends and tendencies within the movement.

I think the main objective that should be pursued by younger scholars is to help students deconstruct clichés and stereotypes about the region and to cultivate more sophisticated knowledge of the region. It seems that in recent years a foreign policy- oriented approach has dominated debates about the region. While policy-oriented approaches can be useful, I think more political scientific approaches can provide more nuanced insight about the causes of instability, revolutions, and civil wars in the region. 

And finally can you tell our readers a little about your own educational background and your own research?

I obtained my B.A. from Tehran University, my M.A. from Essex, and my Ph.D. from Liverpool. During those years in England I greatly benefited from the knowledge and insights of Ernesto Laclau. My focus during graduate studies was on political theory (of the state, revolution, political behavior, etc.), some of which I applied to my study of the Iranian Revolution. Returning to Iran, I taught at Tehran from 1982 untill 2005. My main interests during those years were Western political theory and the political sociology of democratization. Also, I have been constantly interested in Hobbes and Hobbes studies, and when at Tehran, I tried to introduce Hobbes to my students in a more detailed way. I translated Leviathan into Persian; I have also recently translated his Behemoth. One reason I did this was the remarkable similarities I found between the Puritan Revolution in England and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Even though working at Syracuse since 2006, I have continued publishing in Persian, particularly a series of works on transitions to democracy. I have been writing for the last 30 years on political theory and political sociology. Last month, my last book in Persian was published in Tehran; it is titled: From Crisis to Breakdown: A Comparative Study of Political Sustainability and Vulnerability. In this I carried out a comparative study of social and political turmoil in several countries, including European and Middle Eastern nations. Currently, I am working on commentaries on Hobbes; in fact, my hobby is Hobbes.

Rashell Lisowski, a junior majoring in international relations political science (double major), us about her  experince of taking Professor Bashiriyeh’s courses.

As a student of international relations and political science at Syracuse University, I have been fortunate enough to take two of Professor Bashiriyeh’s classes about political Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. Both of these courses were outstanding because of the quality of the material. Every lecture was full of important details and concepts, and the course readings con- tributed tremendously. Professor Bashiriyeh never ceases to amaze me because he is so knowledgeable in the subject material covered in his courses; every day he gives an outstanding and detailed lecture, with few to no notes.

He presents various perspectives from diverse individuals and groups, allowing students to fully grasp the subject material, and develop their own critical perspectives. My experience with Professor Bashiriyeh’s courses was very positive because he consistently developed and elaborated on the concepts discussed. Furthermore, the various paper assignments helped me to improve my writing skills and explore diverse opinions and ideas pertaining to the Middle East. As an instructor, Professor Bashiriyeh has tremendous knowledge of political science, Islam, fundamentalism, the Middle East, and so much more, and this makes his courses all the more interesting.