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2014 PIIRS Global Seminars

Islam, Empire, and Energy: Azerbaijan and the Modern World

The Holly and Henry Wendt, Class of 1955, Global Seminar

Baku, Azerbaijan, June 9 - July 18, 2014


"Islam, Empire, and Energy: Azerbaijan and the Modern World," will be held from June 9-July 18, 2014, in Baku, Azerbaijan. The course is taught by Michael Reynolds, associate professor of Near Eastern History.

Azerbaijan may be unfamiliar to many outside the Caucasus, but the "Land of Fire" offers an unparalleled perspective on the processes that birthed and continue to shape the modern world in both Eurasia and the Middle East. At the heart of the story of Azerbaijan lie debates on Islam and identity, empire and independence, nation and ethnicity, autocracy and democracy, and energy and development. Nestled in the southern Caucasus astride the boundaries of Europe and Asia; Islam and Christianity; Sunni and Shi’i Islam; and Turkic, Slavic, and Persian civilizations, Azerbaijan and its people have played key and sometimes leading roles in the history of all its neighbors.

The seminar takes place in Azerbaijan’s seaside capital, Baku—once a site of Zoroastrian worship, then a Muslim Khanate, next the center of world oil production at the dawn of the 20th century, and now once again a global energy hub. It explores Azerbaijan’s history from the arrival of the Turks from Central Asia through the present day. Among the questions the seminar poses are: How did Russian Imperial rule spur the emergence of a new and distinct Azerbaijani identity? What cultural innovations did Azerbaijani intellectuals introduce to Turkic and Persian cultures? How did the Nobels, Rothschilds, and other global actors help transform Baku into an oil boomtown? Why did Azerbaijan in 1918 become the first democratic republic in the Muslim world? How did the experience of Soviet Communism shape Azerbaijani modernity, and what are Communism’s legacies? How do Azerbaijanis negotiate Sunni Islam, Shi’i Islam, and secularism? Excursions include sites inside and outside Baku. There will also be daily instruction in Azerbaijani Turkish.

The course fulfills the Historical Analysis (HA) requirement and counts as an elective for the Certificate in Near Eastern Studies and for the Certificate in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. It is open to freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. Admission is by application and interview.


November 20, 2013
219 Aaron Burr Hall
5:30-7 p.m.
Pizza will be served

February 10, 2014
5 p.m.

February 2014
Information Session
Interviews Begin

March 2014
Acceptance Deadline


Pre-Departure Orientation Meeting


Rebecca Aguas,Administrator
PIIRS Global Seminar in Azerbaijan
323 Aaron Burr Hall