Contested Bodies: Representations of Martyrdom

Fall 2014 quarter

Taught by

English literature, theater studies

How is the image of the martyr a revolutionary image? What is the function of the martyr’s body as a sign of her beliefs? This upper-division program will examine representations of martyrdom in a variety of historical and contemporary contexts, with a particular emphasis on colonialism and its aftermath. Students will deepen their skills in visual analysis through careful study of the visual languages of European (Christian) martyrdom, Shi’a martyrdom and contemporary Islamic martyrdom.

Martyrdom is by no means an exclusively religious phenomenon—it has always been shaped by larger political struggles—but we will pay attention to the representational paradoxes involved in making images of martyrs within communities in which idol worship is technically forbidden. Most of all, we will seek to resist the stereotypical notion of the martyr as mindless fanatic. To do this, we will examine the conditions of oppression under which martyrdom becomes one of a small number of viable choices, as well as the individual martyr’s resistance to those conditions. The martyr’s body is a site of contestation between various ideological frameworks, but it can also be a site of empowerment.

This program is ideal for students who wish to hone their analytical skills, especially in relation to the close reading of images within their historical contexts. Students will complete investigative assignments to supplement the case studies covered in lecture and will be asked to design a research-based independent project related to program themes. The reading load for this program will be heavy and will involve critical theory as well as essays on particular historical moments and images. There will be no studio instruction in photography. Students will benefit from previous study of art history and/or post-colonialism, but neither are required in order to succeed in the program.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

visual arts, art history, curation, and teaching.

Academic Website

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Hybrid Online Learning < 25% Delivered Online:

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall)

Class standing: Sophomore–Senior

Maximum enrollment: 50


Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16 credits): 10070
So - Sr (1-16 credits): 10403

Go to to register for this program.

Need Help Finding the Right Program?

Contact Academic Advising for help in answering your questions, planning your future and solving problems.