Syllabus and Calendar

Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


MIT students need the permission of the instructors.


This course surveys both classic and cutting edge work on the politics of the Middle East, broadly defined. Topics include the causes and consequences of political and economic development, authoritarianism and democratization, the influence of social movements, the role of women in Middle Eastern politics, Islamism, terrorism, colonialism and foreign occupation, state-building, resistance and rebellion, and the Arab uprisings. We will cover a variety of methods and approaches to studying the Middle East: ethnographic studies, survey research, case studies, rational choice, and “big data” approaches. You will have the opportunity to explore your own interests further by developing a grant proposal, research paper, or by writing response papers.

This is a graduate class, open to advanced undergraduates by permission of the instructors. We expect graduate-level discussion and work. We do not provide an overview of basic facts about politics in the Middle East and we expect students who need such an overview to do extra reading on their own time.1 The purpose of the class is to teach students how to carry out Political Science research on Middle East politics.


Our goals for the class are to (1) discuss and critique current research about Middle East politics, and (2) help you produce writing that will advance your academic and professional goals.


You should read required readings prior to class. For specific selections, see the Readings section.

Participation (25% of grade):

We expect you to participate in seminar discussions. You will learn just as much from hearing your peers discuss the readings as from hearing the instructors discuss the readings. Before each class period, you must come up with at least one question or issue related to the reading that you would like to discuss. Email your questions to both instructors by midnight the day before class.

Our goal is to crowd-source our way to greater insights; this is only possible when everyone participates in class discussions. If you are concerned that your communication style places you at a disadvantage, get in touch and we can discuss how you might participate in ways that help achieve the group goals.

Writing (75% of grade):

We need to see and evaluate some writing. There are three main options: (1) a seminar paper, (2) a research proposal/grant proposal (without empirical analysis), or (3) six response papers reacting to course readings (approximately 1,500 words each). Other genres require instructor permission; you will need to describe how writing in a different genre will help you and meet the goals of the class. 

For more information, see the Assignments section.


1 Politics of Knowledge in Middle East Political Science
2 Political Violence: Ideas and Structure
3 Authoritarianism
4 Sectarianism
5 Gender
6 Islamism
7 Historical Approaches to Developments
8 Arab Spring
9 Religion
10 Elections
11 Anti-Americanism and Views of the West

1 One place to start is: Bill, James A., and Robert Springborg. Politics in the Middle East. 5th ed. Pearson, 1999. ISBN: 9780321005373.