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Head On History
33 minutes | Jul 13, 2021
Transgender and Non Binary in Islamic History
Continuing our exploration of gender and sexuality in Islamic history we turn to the figure of the mukhannathun, a third gender category in early Islam. We trace ideas of gender as a fluid spectrum through the lives of these individuals examining their existence in the life of Muhammad and the nascent Muslim community, the Umayyads, and their eventual status in Abbasid society. We analyze the way in which they intersect with ideas of sexuality and theories of sex which fuse Islamic and Hellenistic models. Finally, we explore the legal discourse around intersex bodies and how these then make room for local expressions of gender in Indonesia and South Asia.
31 minutes | Jun 30, 2021
Homosexuality and Gay Love in Islamic History
In this episode we dive into the history of homosexuality, same-sex desire, and gay love in Islamic societies. We examine the realm of religion, scripture, literature, and medicine and what they tell us about same-sex desire. We recount the lives of famous gay and lesbian figures from the early Muslim community through the Abbasid Caliphate, Al Andalus, and the Indo-Persian world. We discuss the formulation of the concept of “liwat” while pushing back on the reductive attempt to project modern definitions on to it. We analyze the nuances in religious discourse arguing liwat is more accurately understood as sodomy and sexual violation. To the contrary we examine the way in which homoerotic poetry was praised in Islamic societies.
33 minutes | Jun 27, 2021
Sex and Pleasure in Islamic Society
How did early Muslims define sex? In this episode we examine the role of pleasure and specifically mutual pleasure as a key definition of sex in Islamic society. We trace the role of pleasure from the Qur’anic ethos to the subsequent development of Islamic law, literature, and medicine. We argue Muslims did not define sex as predominantly procreative, but treated pleasure as good in its own right. We examine erotic manuals on mutual orgasm, advice literature on sexual satisfaction of partners, and religious guidance on sex partners. From this we can see a society which viewed sex in mostly positive terms and what this means for broader understandings of relationships, sexuality, and gender.
23 minutes | Jul 18, 2019
Gender and Sexuality in Islam
The theme for season 5 is gender and sexuality in Islam. In our first episode we provide the framework for understanding gender, sex, and sexuality in the Islamic world. We discuss three influences on the framework: cultural beliefs, the Qur’an, and the philosophical tradition of the high Abbasid period. We discuss how Muhammad strove to reform Arabian tribal society and the ways in which the Qu’ran reflects this mission as well as codifies certain social differences and structures. We talk about the vast cultural variations and how the process of Islamizing a region included adopting some cultural norms. We then discuss the Hellenic concept of the humors and their adoption into Islam and relation to understanding gender and sexuality. Finally we bring it all together to help us understand the way in which Islam views gender, sex, and sexuality on a fluid spectrum that allows for variation. This episode sets up the framework for our future conversations.
21 minutes | Mar 22, 2019
In this special we cover the history of Islamophobia and the way it intersects with other forms of bigotry like antisemitism and its connection with Orientalism. We try to put the tragedy of the Christchuch, New Zealand shooting into a broader context by examining the discourse on Muslims. We start by examining Orientalism and its imagining of the Middle East and the racialization of Europeans and Semites. We explore how this forms the backdrop of the imagined community of the nation state as well as the civilizing mission of colonialism. We then discuss how some of this was deployed in the rise of contemporary Islamophobia which we link to the Cold War. We talk about the framework of “good Muslims, bad Muslims” and the massive industry that produces and profits from Islamophobia.
53 minutes | Mar 8, 2019
Byzantines, Sassanians, and Holy Emperors
In our final episode of the season, we wrap up our theme of Empires of Faith. We start out with some shout outs and then present a brief timeline of the Roman and Byzantine Empire. We discuss the Romanization of Christianity and the Christianization of the Roman Empire. We talk about Constantine with the imperial intervention into theology through the Council of Nicea. We examine how the intersection of empire and religion produces an orthodoxy enforced by force. We link this to the transformation of the “martyr” from one who faces violence to soldiers to carry out violence. We explore the relationship between orthodoxy, heresy, and violence in the creation of an imperial religious identity. When then discuss the emergence of the Sassanian Empire and the establishment of Zoroastrianism as the official religion of the empire. We mention Mani and Manichaeism briefly before focusing on the relationship between the monarchy and the Zoroastrian clergy in producing legitimacy. Finally we explore how the imperial orthodoxy at the heart of both the Byzantine Empire and Sassanian Empire is deployed in the territorial Byzantine-Sassanid War.
47 minutes | Mar 1, 2019
Judaism, Christianity, and Messianic Kings
In this episode we explore the history of Israelite religion under Hellenism and the Roman empire. We examine the ways in which Judeans responded to, absorbed, and resisted Hellenic culture resulting in messianic movements, the Sadducee sect, Pharisee sect, and Essene sect. We investigate the cosmopolitan culture of Judea under the Seleucid Empire and later the Roman Empire. We examine the changing relationship of various Israelite groups to the Temple and with their imperial overlords. We discuss the cultural milieu from which the Jesus movement emerges. Then we link the early followers of Christ to the broader debates and movements in Jerusalem. This leads us to examine the competing ideas of messianism in Judaism and the intervention of Paul. Finally we discuss the partition and separation of the Jesus movement and the Roman influence on conceptions of Late Antique religion. From this we see the use of heresy and orthodoxy in the division of Christianity from Rabbinic Judaism.
55 minutes | Feb 23, 2019
The Roman Empire & The Cult of the Emperor
In this episode we explore Roman religion and how it was shaped by the empire. We begin with a brief chronology of Roman history from its early days through the republic until the empire. We sketch out the structure of Roman society and some of the features of it’s politics. We spend the bulk of our time examining Roman religion, cults, and the way of the ancestors. We discuss the gods, the integration of foreign gods, the religious function of the state, and the priestly class. We talk about auguries and divining the will of the gods. Finally we discuss the cult of the emperor, its clash with mystery religions, and the consequences for the imperial project of Rome.
43 minutes | Feb 15, 2019
The Greeks and the Philosopher Kings
This episode provides a brief sketch of the history of the Greeks. We start with a short discussion on the Minoans and the Mycenaean invasion. We talk about the emergence of a common culture within Homer’s epic of the Iliad and Odyssey while noting that “Greek” was a single, unified people, but rather autonomous and warring city-states that shared some common characteristics. We compare and contrast Spartan and Athenian society and trace the rise of democracy. We then explore the Greco-Persian wars, linking with our last episode on the Achaemenid Empire. We discuss the consequences of the Persian invasion and the conditions for the rise of the pan-Hellenic empire of Alexander the Great. We discuss the philosophical underpinnings of the empire from Socrates and Plato to Aristotle and dissect Hellenism as a culture produced from the dialogical process of Greeks encountering local cultures. We conclude with a brief exploration of Greco-Buddhist culture and the break up of the Hellenic Empire.
38 minutes | Feb 8, 2019
Achaemenid Empire and Universal Kingship
In this episode we pick up with the Babylonian Captivity. We discuss the rise of Cyrus the Great and the Achaemenid empire. We examine the origins of the Persians and their consolidation into an empire that conquers the Neo-Babylonians. We talk about the policy of religious pluralism instituted by Cyrus the Great and its links to Zoroastrianism. We discuss the ideals of universal kingship espoused in the Cyrus Cylinder and its consequences for world history. We examine the major tenets of faith of Zoroastrianism and its adoption into the Achaemenid empire. Finally we conclude with how the ideology of Zoroastrianism shaped the imperial structure and programs.
38 minutes | Jan 31, 2019
Ancient Israelite Religion and Monotheistic Kingship
In this episode we examine the complexities of ancient Israelite religion by placing it within the historical context. We put forth theories about the origins of the religions while situating it within the broader ancient near east and Mediterranean religious traditions. We talk about the establishment of temple religion and the historical experience of empires that shaped Israelite religion and set the conditions for the emergence of monotheism. We explore the history and evolution of monotheism and the role of centralized kingship in spreading it. We also examine how monotheism is shaped by and attempts to explain the experience of exile via the Babylonian Captivity.
40 minutes | Jan 24, 2019
The Assyrians and Heroic Kingship
Today we discuss the rise of the Assyrian empire. From the Old Assyrian Empire to the Neo Assyrians we discuss how the technological developments of the Iron Age radically transformed the empire-building powers of the ancient world and the ways it impacted the religious ideologies of the Assyrians. We dissect the militaristic culture and its consequences for gender relations, sexuality, and concepts of law. We discuss the imperial tactics of the Assyrians and how kingship and religion intersect to produce the visage of the heroic or imperial king who demonstrates his divine right through conquest and great hunts. We analyze the text of Ashurbanipal and the adoption of law back by the threat of violence. Finally we conclude by setting the stage of the ancient near east divided between the Hittites, Egyptians, and the Neo-Assyrians and the context for ancient Israelite religion.
41 minutes | Jan 17, 2019
Ancient Egypt and the Pharaohs
In this episode we dive into the world of ancient Egypt. We start with a discussion on religion in the ancient world and the difference between our modern assumptions of religion. We discuss the impact of the Nile as a stable irrigation system on Egyptian society and religion. We compare and contrast the Pharaohs with the Mesopotamian counterparts and relate the myth of Osiris and Set from the Pyramid Text. We analyze the mythology of ancient Egyptians and the way it intersects with their notions of government and kingship. We discuss the deities of Isis, Hathor, Horus, and the concept of Egyptian afterlife.
33 minutes | Jan 11, 2019
Hammurabi and Babylonian Kingship
Today we take a look at the Babylonian empire and the rise of Hammurabi. We analyze the way kingship and religion worked hand-in-hand to justify rule. We take a close look at the Code of Hammurabi and what it tells us about Babylonian religion. We examine the cosmology of the Enuma Elish and the Babylonian pantheon and how in turn it impacted the formation of the empire. We discuss the way in which the Babylonian empire built on what can before and the ways it built ideological structures that would be borrowed by later empires and religions. We discuss the connections of Babylonian religion to the Hebrew Bible and explore the ordained just kingship at the heart of Babylon. Finally we conclude with a brief discussion of ancient magic and the role of demons.
44 minutes | Jan 7, 2019
Sargon of Akkad and the First Empire
Welcome to season 4 of Head on History: Empires of Faith. This season we are going to discuss the ancient world up to the arrival of Islam through an examination of the intersection of empire and religion. In this episode we establish the basic outline of complex societies, the common characteristics of the early civilizations, and introduce the Akkadian Empire and Sargon of Akkad. We discuss the likely theories for how civilizations emerge, the environmental influence of early Sumerian religion. We analyze the myth of Inanna and Damuzi and the Epic of Gilgamesh, setting the stage for the coming of the Hammurabi.
59 minutes | Oct 19, 2018
Special: Saudi Arabia and the US
With the recent tragic news of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder likely at the hands of Saudi officials, it is imperative we take a look at the long history of Saudi Arabia’s troubled past and its relationship with the United States. In this episode we examine the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the alliance between the House of Saud and Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab to its rebellion against the Ottomans. We discuss the relationship of Saudi Arabia with Great Britain and the United States and the oil and military interests in the region. We examine the contours and shifts of relationships from the Suez Crisis to the first gulf war and the invasion of Kuwait. We discuss the exportation of Wahhabism abroad and the consequences for Middle East history and international relations. Finally we conclude with the take over of the Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Salman and his changing relationship with Wahhabism, his encouragement of Saudi nationalism, the war in Yemen, his close ties to the Trump administration and its impact on the region.
30 minutes | Sep 20, 2018
Special: Muharram, Ashura, and Karbala
**Apologies for the incorrect outro music, will correct**In this special episode of Head On History we discuss the history, origin, and practices of Muharram and Ashura. We start with the Battle of Karbala and the lead up to the schism in the nascent Muslim community. We talk about the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali and the consequences for the community. We then explore how mourning and commemorating the tragedy emerged as a practice from the Buyids to the Safavids. We examine how Muharram and Ashura become pivotal in shaping communal identity. We discuss some of the major practices like pilgrimages and Taziyeh plays and the way in which Muahharm and Ashura historically was a point of commonality between Shia and Sunni groups, but how that history has been forgotten.
31 minutes | Aug 10, 2018
In the last episode of season 3 we look at the Male Revolt and dig deeper into the history of Islam in South America. We look at the slave trade to Brazil and the formation of Muslim communities. We examine the unique rituals and authority African Muslims were able to forge and how they secretly continued their faith. We look at the backdrop to the revolt and the interpersonal relationships that endangered it. Finally we conclude with the consequences of the event for the remaining communities. We conclude season 3 and we’ll be back in winter
50 minutes | Aug 2, 2018
Islam and America
From colonial America to 20th century, Islam has a long history in the United States. We start with the transatlantic slave trade and tracing some of the demographics that made up the colonial US. We examine material evidence, paintings, and written sources to uncover the lives of African Muslims living the United States. We talk about Muhammad Bilali who left behind religious treatise and became the forefather of the Sapelo Islands. We discuss Yarrow Mamout who as a freeman became a black Muslim entrepreneur in DC. We spend some time with Omar ibn Said, the great religious scholar who left behind a body of work including his biography and texts of Islam. We look at these lives as evidence of how Muslims in America forged a new life for themselves. We also examine the relationship between the United States and Muslim countries, the debate on religious liberty and religious freedom, and trace the history of Muslim migration. From Muslims in the Civil War to the famous Hot Tamale Louis. This is a story of Islam in America.
40 minutes | Jul 26, 2018
Special: Islam and China
In light of the ongoing crackdowns in Xinjiang, this special episode explores the history of Islam in China. Pushing back against some of the narratives that imagine Islam as a foreign threat, we look at the premodern history of Islam and how it arrived in China. We talk about the early connections between the Rashidun Caliphate and the Tang Dynasty. We explore how Islam was localized over several centuries, the impact on Chinese society, and in turn how Islam itself was shaped by merchants and traders in China. We talk about the cultural renaissance under the Yuan dynasty and how the premodern history complicates the contemporary politics. Recommended Books: Peterson, Kristian. Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in Han Kitab. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017. Thum, Rian. The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.
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