Presentation & Final Paper

The presentation schedule is now available (click here).

Parts of a good presentation:

  • motivation: hook; draw audience in
  • introduction: main message or thesis; goals
  • body: defend thesis; consider objections; analyze data in depth
  • conclusion: take-home message; open questions

Features of a good presentation:

  • makes a precise, well defined contribution
  • well organized,  well structured
  • clear and easy to follow
  • attention grabbing, interesting
  • surprising, memorable

The final paper is due May 23rd (see slides here).

Going Beyond “Facts” and Assignment 4

After mastering basic skills of critical reasoning in part 1 (premises/conclusions, necessary/sufficient conditions, correlation/causation) and fact-checking in part 2, we shall now discuss how to reason beyond and behind “facts”.

Check out the course materials for part 3 of the course.

Assignment 4 is also available (here).

There are three more items you’ll be graded on:

second surprise exam (anytime before the break);

final project presentation (last two weeks, schedule here); and

final paper (due May 23).



Guest Speaker Hazem Jamjoum on the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Monday April 4 we had a guest speaker discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict and the living conditions in the Palestinian territories. Hazem Jamjoum is currently pursuing doctoral studies at NYU on the history of the Middle East. In his introduction on the Arab-Israeli conflict, he discussed zionism, the formation of a Jewish state, the living conditions of non-Jewish Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship, the system of walls and fortifications created by the Israeli government, the displacement of Palestinian refugees.

Here is an historical introduction about the conflict (link).

Check out the videos below, offering perspectives from the Palestinian and the Israeli side:

Queen Ranja at Yale University [video]

Naftali Bennett’s stability initiative [video]

CNN Bennett v. Rula Jebreal [video]


Guest Speaker Philipp Valentini on Radical v. Moderate Islam

Wednesday March 30, Philipp Valentini, a visiting scholar at Columbia University  and a PhD candidate in comparative history of religion at the University of Freiburg in Switzerland, led a discussion on the topic of “radical versus moderate Islam”.

Philipp spoke on a number of topics: the Shari’a, as the religious Law and its sources; the non-religious law, the Qanun; the tradition of multiple legal interpretations in classical Islam; why this tradition of multiple interpretations was lost in the 18th century and later; the role of women in Islam.

Here are some references divided by topic:

Life of the Prophet
Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, New Press, 2002 [link]
Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, Inner Traditions, 2006 [link]
Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law, Oxford University Press, 1964 [link]
Contemporary Situation of the Muslim World
Olivier Roy, Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, Columbia University Press 2006 [link]
Amina Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam, Oneworld, 2006 [link]

Guest Speaker Dr. Sara Marzagora on FGM

Today we had a guest speaker, Dr. Sara Marzagora, a researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Sara led a discussion about FGM.

In the first part of class, we discussed general questions about FGM, such as: when did FGM start and why?  Should FGM be banned? Is FGM a violation of fundamental human rights?  Should women be allowed to decide for themselves? Can women be truly free to decide if there is social pressure on them to undergo FGM?

In the second part, we focused on a more specific question, that is, whether FGM is a peculiarity of Islamic countries or not. Social commentators are divided. We watched two videos that offered contrasting views on this point:

Reza Aslan Slams Bill Maher [video]

Sarah Heider Responds to Reza Aslan [video]

Please, also check out the additional materials below:

2013 UNICEF Report about FGM in Africa [PDF]

FGM in Indonesia [NY Times, UNICEF]

FGM in Thailand [AlJazeera]


Solutions to assignment 2 – part A

The solutions to assignment 2 – part A are available.

Table and charts are available here. The answers to the questions are as follows:

  • In the second chart, the line representing the number of violent crimes remains stably low over the years because it is plotted against the number of US residents (and this number is extremely large compared to the number of crimes).
  • The probability of being the victim of a violent crime back in 1992 is roughly 0.0075, or equivalent, 0.75%. This number is obtained by dividing the number of crimes in 1992 by the US population in 1992.
  • The most striking message form the last chart is that US crime rates climbed steeply until the 90’s and declined sharply thereafter. Why did that happen? Exploring this question is the task of Part B.

Part B is due this coming Wed March 16th.