Undergraduate Module Descriptor

ARA2001: From Holy Text to Sex Manuals in the Medieval Middle East

This module descriptor refers to the 2019/0 academic year.

Module Content

Syllabus Plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics


Translation and the word of God

Bringing the problems of translation into focus with the example of the Qur’an, while also learning about the importance of the Qur’an to literature and culture.


Qur’an, hadith, akhbar-- the hidden author

Considering theories of authorship in light of works that are orally transmitted or whose authorship is otherwise complicated.


Story and History

Considering how texts signal themselves as being fiction or non-fiction while studying the development of historiography in the Middle East as well as in Europe.


Poetry with a purpose?

Considering the importance of Arabic poetry and its pre-Islamic history, as well as the purported magical origins of satire.



Comparing stories from different cultures in which humans have carnal relations with donkeys. Why does this trope recur? What is it used to teach? What is meant by “carnivalesque” and how can we apply that concept here?


Poetry and Piety, a question of reception?

Considering poets who adopt a blasphemous wine-drinking persona while simultaneously professing their piety.



Wandering tricksters, rogues, and scholars—their literary and historical importance.


Mysticism around the world

Mysticism and its shared features in many different cultures, with an emphasis on Sufism.



The Influence of Arabic literature on European literary classics like Dante’s Divine Comedy. The influence of Arabic medicine and science on European medicine and science.


The Centrality of the Marginal

Why are themes of sex, wine-drinking, and foul-mouthed blasphemous humour treated by some modern scholars as marginal when they are in fact so prevasive and central to medieval literature and culture?


Modern traces and Interpretations

What can be seen of the Medieval Middle East in the modern “Western World,” looking everwhere from rides in Disney land to modern medicine.

Learning and Teaching

This table provides an overview of how your hours of study for this module are allocated:

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

...and this table provides a more detailed breakdown of the hours allocated to various study activities:

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities2211 x 2 hour classes. You will need to complete all readings prior to class and be ready to participate. On some occasions you may be asked to participate.
Guided Independent Study68Reading and research
Guided Independent Study30Completing assignments
Guided independent study30Preparing for assessments

Online Resources

This module has online resources available via ELE (the Exeter Learning Environment).