BA Arabic and a Modern European Language / Course details

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Cultures of the Middle East and North Africa

Unit code MEST10092
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The study of the cultures of the Middle East and Africa (MENA) is the main focus of this course. Starting with a set of lectures on the meaning of culture and an insight into the specificity of the region in terms of land, people and their social customs, the course will then focus on the MENA family and will examine gender roles in both the public and private spheres, the role of patriarchy in shaping gender roles and family ties, and the region’s never ending dilemma of struggling between tradition and modernity.

Other topics include marriage as a site of cultural celebrations, New year celebrations with case studies from Israel (Rosh Hashanah) and Iran (Nowruz); Male circumcision as practiced in the MENA according to Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions; the celebrations of Muslim religious festivals including the Mawlid (Prophet Mohammed’s birthday) and the Hajj will also be studied with a focus on how local cultures shape up religious practice. 



It is the aim of this course to:

  •  Introduce students to the study of the cultures of a rapidly changing Middle East and North Africa from a multidisciplinary angle.
  • Remove any fogginess students might have about the cultures of MENA,
  • Debunk preconceived stereotypical ideas they might have acquired through the media about a region mostly typified as an area rife with conflict and not as a land of rich and diverse cultures.
  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of MENA cultures from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Gain knowledge of the cultures of diverse and ever changing MENA societies
  • Gain an informed understanding of the MENA region and its people beyond media stereotypes
  • Understand and discuss theoretical issues behind the study of the MENA cultures from a multidisciplinary angle
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the core texts on Middle Eastern Studies
  • Have appropriate command of key concepts and terminologies related to the multidisciplinary study of MENA cultures



Week 1: General Introduction to the Course

Week 2: What is ‘culture’?

Week 3: The Middle Eastern Family

Patriarchy and Gender Roles between Public and Private Spheres

Week 4: Middle Eastern Marriage

Cultural Patterns of Celebrations: A Struggle between Tradition and Modernity

Week 5: Marriage Celebrations in MENA: How to compromise Religious and Customs?

Week 6: Male Circumcision between Religious and Pagan Cultures

Week 7: New Year Celebrations: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year & Nowruz: The Persian New Year

Week 8: The Mawlid: Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday.

Week 9: The Hajj: A Religious Obligation or a Cultural Commemoration?

Week 10: Ashura & Karbala



Students will be assigned to small groups for weekly tutorials.


Teaching and learning methods


  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Directed Reading
  • Course work
  • Blackboard E-Learning

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Relate their learning experiences to the social, cultural, political, and other dimensions which characterize the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Gain a good understanding about the diversity and wealth of MENA cultures and societies
  • Gain a good understanding of the resistance of cultures to religions, and how they shape religious practice according to local cultures and customs
  • Build awareness about the diversity which distinguishes the MENA as well as its Cultures, religions and populations.
  • Gain access to the study of a range of specialist areas within the discipline

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Analytical and critical thinking
  • Synthesis and analysis of data and information
  • Develop advanced skills of written and verbal communication
  • Organization and expression of ideas

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Discussion and debating ethics
  • Using library, electronic and online resources
  • Using reporting skills
  • Group ethos
  • Peer review/evaluation

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Independent Learning.
  • Co-operative Learning and team work.
  • Time Management and punctuality
  • Debating and presentation skills
  • Applying Subject Knowledge
  • Negotiation (Understand group dynamics and intercultural backgrounds in the use of negotiating skills to reach objectives).

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 40%
Oral assessment/presentation 10%

Feedback methods


  • Written and oral feedback on seminar presentations
  • Written feedback on final exam and essay
  • Additional one-to-one feedback: Lecturer’s 2 weekly office hours are the chief venue for feedback. This is a walk-in, i.e., no prior appointment is required.

Recommended reading


  • Herzig, S., Jewish Culture and Customs, Bellwamr, 2012.
  • Khalaf, S., & R.S. Khalaf, Arab Society and Culture: An essential guide, London: Saqi Books, 2010.
  •  Koultaki, S., Among the Iranians: A Guide to Iran's Culture and Customs, Intercultural Press, 2010.
  • Mir-Hosseini, Z., Marriage on Trial:  A study of Islamic family law, I.B. Tauris, 1993.
  • Rosen, L., The Culture of Islam: Changing Aspects of Contemporary Muslim Life, The University of Chicago Press, 2002.
  • Triandis, H. C., Culture and Social Behavior. New York: McGraw Hill, 1994.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 30
Project supervision 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 160

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Zahia Smail Salhi Unit coordinator

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