Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: The Clash of Civilizations

Instructor: Don Habibi

Two seminal articles, one by Bernard Lewis, the other by Samuel Huntington, argued that future conflicts might constitute a "clash of civilizations." Both articles generated debate and controversy throughout the 1990's. The events of September 11 led to renewed interest in their writings, with many lauding Lewis and Huntington for their insightful predictions. Indeed, 9/11 marks an historical watershed for the United States, the Arab and Islamic worlds, and indeed for everyone interested in global politics, diplomacy, law, civil liberties, economics, terrorism, military science, and the future. The questions are by now familiar: Why was the U.S. attacked? Is our foreign policy to blame? Why are we hated? Is there an alternative to violence and militarism? Will the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan lead to greater hatred and more terrorism? Is this a clash of civilizations? What will this do to the economy? What will this do to our freedoms? Can we see this in terms of good vs. evil? What does morality have to do with this? Is religion the problem? For some of these questions there are no answers; but for many of them there are answers that yield a greater understanding of the world we live in.

This course will explore these questions. In so doing, we will need to study hard, think deeply, and familiarize ourselves with an interdisciplinary approach to a set of very complex issues. We will examine the issues from historical, theological, political, philosophical, psychological, geographical, and cultural perspectives. We will learn how to analyze critically the arguments that form the basis of a conflict that is likely to persist for decades to come.

Course Objectives:

The aim of this course will be to familiarize ourselves with the philosophical roots of different world civilizations and how they impact the international challenges facing the U.S. My main goal is to educate my students to develop a sophisticated understanding of the middle east, central Asia, the United States, the 'West,' and the 'international community' that goes beyond media reporting and political grandstanding. This will require serious effort on the part of students, and a commitment from the instructor to be as honest, fair and objective as possible. The nature of conflict, especially controversial ones that involve religion, identity, and politics is such that objectivity is difficult-if not impossible to achieve. The terms we use, the facts that we emphasize or neglect, the academic constructs that we bring to bear on the issues go a long way toward revealing subjective preferences. We must all do our best to be open-minded and willing to listen and learn from each other. The classroom should be a haven for free speech and exploring ideas.


See course schedule (will be available in the syllabus handout provided on the first day of classes) for specific reading assignments.

Barry Rubin and Judith Rubin, Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East: A Documentary Reader (Oxford)

Henry Kissinger, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Towards a Diplomacy for the 21st Century (Simon and Schuster)

F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West: An Inquiry Concerning World Understanding (Macmillan/Ox Bow).

New York Times, (external link)

Al Ahram Weekly, an Egyptian newspaper is found at (link is broken - to be fixed when course is offered)

Jerusalem Post, a daily [center-right] Israeli newspaper is found at (look it up)

Jordan Times, a daily Jordanian newspaper is found at: (external link)

Ha'aretz, a daily [left] Israeli newspaper is found at: (external link)

There are several articles as well as other materials (such as books and videos) that will be placed on reserve in the Learning Resources Center and electronically at the Randall Library. Some of these will be indicated in the course schedule. There will be a distance learning component to this course, and some lectures will be posted on my website: Because the topics we will be dealing with are current and unfolding, other readings will be announced.

Assignments and Evaluation:

Tentatively, the course grades will be based on a term paper. The term paper will be due on June 19. Students have the option to submit before June 12. For those who exercise this option, their paper will be read, corrected, critiqued and returned ungraded. They may then submit the improved final version of the term paper on June 19. This version will be graded. Final course grades are curved, and a plus/minus grade system is used.

Attendance and participation are essential for the success of this seminar, and can make a difference in the final grade for this course. It is the responsibility of those who are absent to find out what they missed. Students are also responsible to check their UNCW email, as I plan to convey information electronically.

Students are expected to comply with the Honor Code, as articulated in the UNCW Student Handbook. I will gladly accommodate students with disabilities in cooperation with the Office of Disability Services.

Office Hours:

I will be available after class, and by appointment. My office on the UNCW campus is in Bear Hall, Room 280 (office phone 910-962-3836). My home phone is: (843) 449-7941. Another way to reach me is via email at: habibid AT uncw DOT edu. There will be a distance learning component to this class, so we will not necessarily meet face to face for every session.

Student input and feedback are welcome and encouraged. Students are encouraged to share their ideas. Please do not wait until the end of the semester to see me if you are having any problems. Remember: philosophy is an activity to be engaged in, and not a passive process. The best indication that students are benefiting from the class is their willingness to question, argue, challenge, and debate the issues. I strongly encourage you to seek explanations and clarifications whenever you have questions.

Last Update: February 6, 2017