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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2010

T C 357 • The Veil: History, Culture and Politics

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
43620 M
4:00 PM-7:00 PM
MEZ 1.122

Course Description

The course considers the history of the veil, its cultural meanings, and its place in political discourse. We start by examining the practice of veiling in early Christianity and Islam and the myths that surround its origin. We then discuss how the veil was intertwined with the "woman's question" and nationalism in the mid twentieth century in the height of struggles of national liberation in the Middle East. In the contemporary period, The veil has become an object of fascination in Western societies and a highly charged symbol in the Islamic world. We explore the multiple meanings of the veil both in political debates and in the individual lives of women. How the veil can range from a form of subordination to a sign of empowerment for women is a question we address.

Grading Policy

The requirements for the seminar are a research paper and presentations on the readings. The research paper is developed in stages during the course of the seminar on a topic chosen by the student in consultation with the instructor. Students are encouraged to do research on a topic of interest. They may conduct the research on their own or in teams. Examples of topics include veiling practices in a given country, laws on veiling (either forcing women to put on a veil as in Iran or to drop it as in Turkey), and interviews of women who wear a veil.


The readings for the seminar are interdisciplinary, drawing on Sociology, Anthropology, and History. They include two major books and a packet of recent articles. The books are Women in the Middle East by renowned historian Nikki Keddie and Veiled Sentiments by Lila Abu Lughod, a leading anthropologist of gender. Placing the lives of women and the veil in historical context, the first book focuses on the diversity and richness of women's experiences in the Middle East. The second highlights how gender roles relate to the twin codes of honor and modesty as codes of behavior pervading the Middle East. It also shows how these codes translate into veiling. Articles in the packet address the place of the veil in today’s ideologies and politics not only in the Islamic world, but also in the United States and Western Europe, where the headscarf has become an object of political confrontation. From time to time, we use current newspaper articles or media segments in our discussions.

Note: Audiovisuals are used frequently during the semester to illustrate variations in the veil from Afghanistan to Morocco and elsewhere. We see pictures of the veil in different countries and documentaries on debates on veiling.

About the Professor

Dr. Charrad received her PhD from Harvard University and her undergraduate degree from the Sorbonne in Paris, France. She joined UT in 2000-01. Her interests include gender and women's rights, political sociology, development, comparative historical methodology, and the Middle East and North Africa.


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