The University of Minnesota

Department of History


Fall 2019

Cultures of the Silk Road

Hist 3504; ALL 3872; Rels 3708 

Course description














Cultures of the Silk Road


The cultures of the Silk Road flourished in present-day Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran after the invasion of Alexander the Great. In time, the Road became the hub of activity, especially under the Sassanids and, later, under the Mongols. Even after the discovery of the sea routes made the movement of goods by caravans less profitable, Sufis and merchants continued to enhance the religious, social, political, and literary aspects of the region.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, there has been an attempt at reviving the Silk Road by creating an international network of scholarship about the Silk Road supported by the region's centers of learning and prominent international banks. The potential for the exchange of ideas across cultures for creating a better world is as promising a notion today as it was real in medieval times. The course is devised to acquaint students with the dynamics of the Silk Road, both in medieval and contemporary times. It equips them with the necessary information to understand, interpret, and accept ideas and actions that, on the surface, might appear alien and often unacceptable. The course emphasizes the contributions of the cultures of Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran to world civilization.








Islam and the West


The Islamic World has played a fundamental role in the transfer of the knowledge of the ancients, especially the thought of Plato and Aristotle, to the West. This course exams ancient western thought and traces its further development in the works of medieval scholars like Avicenna, Ibn Rushd, and St. Aquinas. The course shows why the eastern and western scholars' treatment of philosophy has resulted in the divide that plagues the Muslim world and the West, including the United States, today. The course ends with an examination of the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, and the Al-Qaeda in the context of the dynamics of early medieval thought and the more recent western colonialism.










Modern Iran


Modern Iran covers Iranian history from the fall of the Sassanids (7th c. CE) to the present. Part 1 discusses the coexistence of Islam and Iranian culture culminating in the adoption of Shi'ism as the official religion of Iran (16th c. CE). Part 2 examines the role of the Safavids, Qajars, and Pahlavis in the context of modernization and westernization of Iran. Part 3 examines the impact of the 1979 Islamic Revolution on Iranian society.




Ancient Iran


Ancient Persia played a vital role in the development of the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In the north, while fighting the Greeks, Persia contributed to the rise of a number of intellectuals in the region of present-day southwestern Turkey. In the south, for two hundred and ten years Persia expanded Egyptian trade as far as India. In the center, Persia empowered the Phoenicians to control the Mediterranean Sea routes all the way to Gibraltar. The course studies these developments in the context of the growth of the empires of the Achaemenians and the Sassanians.



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