Summer 2023 - HUM 360 D100

Special Topics: Great Themes in the Humanistic Tradition (4)

Travel Cosmo/Geo-graphy Islam

Class Number: 4136

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    May 8 – Aug 4, 2023: Mon, 9:30 a.m.–1:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



An interdisciplinary study of a selected theme that has made a lasting contribution to the humanistic tradition in more than one field of endeavour(e.g. philosophy, politics, literature,economics, religion). This course may be repeated once for credit. Students who have credit for a course with this content under another Humanities course may not take this course for further credit. Breadth-Humanities.


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Section of the Umayyad Mosque courtyard's western wall with significant remains of original Umayyad-era mosaics, depicting landscapes and buildings

Travel, Cosmography, and Geography in the Islamic Eurasia

The course investigates the development of geography and cosmography in the premodern Islamic world as an intellectual tradition and as a form of human experience. We will explore how it evolved in relation to technology, pre-Islamic and Islamic literature, philosophy, science, empirical knowledge, religion, politics, etc. Students will also develop approaches to Islamic intellectual, cultural, and political history, as well as the history of science, through a selection of primary readings, supplemented by scholarly literature on one hand, and—when appropriate—by art history and cartography, on the other hand.

The course will proceed through three units. Unit I will look at how Islamic geographical literature emerged as heir to the intellectual traditions of Mediterranean, Iranian and Indian Antiquity, as a response to the needs of a territorially expanding Muslim Caliphate, and as an expression of the consciousness and intellectual, economic, and political aspirations of an increasingly complex imperial elite of multiple cultural, confessional, and ethnic backgrounds. Unit II will discuss different genres, including cosmographical encyclopaedias, cartography, pilgrimage narratives, as well as poetical works and popular tales, that convey a new sense of spatiality at the time of Islamic cosmopolitanism in the medieval era, which saw the increased migration of commodities and people on the one hand, and intellectuals and ideas on the other hand. Unit III will discuss geography and cartography in the Ottoman Empire supporting and underscoring its expansionist ambitions, and encyclopedic projects in the mid-seventeenth century incorporating some of the latest paradigmatic shifts in science at the time. We will also discuss early modern Muslim intellectuals who wrote about their homeland for a western Christian audience, analyzing their writings at the cross-section of the Islamic geographical tradition and western Christian sensibilities, expectations and literary traditions.


By the end of the course, students will

  • acquire broad familiarity with the key works and genres of premodern Islamic geography and cosmography
  • learn how to use the most important research tools, including certain digital tools, and databases of the field
  • demonstrate the use of principles in historical analysis
  • recognize and reflect on the contingency of analytical frameworks  
  • demonstrate the ability to develop research methods and use coherent analytical frameworks to broach historical and geographical phenomena through primary and secondary sources.


  • Research paper (to be developed in conversation with the Instructor - it is also possible to develop a digital project) 50%
  • Contribution to the weekly discussion board (by noon on the day prior to class) 10%
  • Presentation 20%
  • 2 short essays 20%


This course counts towards a concentration in Mythologies for students enrolled in a Humanities major or minor program. This course also counts towards the Religious Studies Certificate

*If you are having issues enrolling in the course, please email for assistance.



Will be provided through the SFU Library.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at:

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university.


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.