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Muslims in a Global Context: Anthropological Approaches


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, MA Middle Eastern Studies (research), or MA International Relations.

The number of places available in this course are limited. Therefore, read the information below under registration carefully.

Students who are not admitted to one of the abovementioned programmes can only be admitted to the course, if there are places left. Interested students may mail the Student advisor mentioning the course title, their name and their student ID number in the subject line. If they are admitted, they will be enrolled for the course by January 31 at the latest.

Students without prior knowledge of the Middle East are expected to have read before the first class: Bowen, John R., A New Anthropology of Islam. Cambridge University Press, 2012.


We live in a moment in which Muslim societies face an intensification of scrutiny from a variety of media, policy, military, and academic actors. Anthropological perspectives in particular have become increasingly prominent in studies of the Muslim world. According to Edward Said, they might serve as an antidote against essentialist and static views of older “orientalist” approaches.
This seminar will introduce you to key anthropological approaches and studies of central themes that structure the lives of Muslims around the globe, while placing them in historical perspective. Our starting point will be the central debate on Islam and Muslims as object and subject of schorlalrly study. Following this lead, the comparative study of Muslim societies is understood to be central. The first meetings are dedicated to a general introduction to anthropology, its theories, complicated history, concepts and methods. Special attention will be given to combination of the study of written sources with fieldwork. The different styles of report and writing ethnographies will also be analyzed.
In addition, the in-depth discussion of these texts will allow us to engage with practical questions about anthropological methods of participant-observation, interviewing, writing field notes, and more. What role can anthropology play in framing not only popular perceptions of Muslim societies but also broader policies and programs? Should that be the role of ethnographic writing, and how well does this genre lend itself to cross-disciplinary dialogue? As such, the anthropological approach itself will be subject to scrutiny, by placing it in its social and historical context, in which the colonial past looms large.
The second half of the semester is focused on a systematic study of thematic issues using case studies from a variety of locations around the globe. We will compare monographs from regions with Muslim majority populations (for instance the Arab World, the South Asian subcontinent, South East Asia and/or Sub-Saharan Africa) with recent work on Muslim communities in Europe and North America, focusing on central anthropological themes, such as piety, gender, pilgrimage and ritual, but also more recent themes such as youth and Islamic fun, consumerism and banking, politics and the public sphere.

Course objectives

  • A sound overview of the main issues and public debates that define the lives of contemporary Muslims across the globe from an anthropological angle.

  • An introduction to anthropological theories and methods in the context of Muslim societies.

  • A critical reflection on the history of anthropological approaches to the study of Muslim societies placed into a socio-political context.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. The convener needs to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course. In case of unforeseen absences make sure to have another student report on what you missed; you are responsible for seminar information and announcements whether present or not.

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Participation 25%
Oral presentation 25%
Final paper 50%

Students may submit a paper proposal for approval by the convenor, before the internally communicated deadline. Students who do not meet the deadline for topic proposal will lose the right to get comments. Only the final paper is graded.
Late submissions of written work will result in a deduction of paper grades as follows: 1-24 hs late = -0.5; 24-48 hs late = -1.0; 48-72 hs late = -1.5; 72-96 hs late = -2.0. Late papers will not be accepted more than four days after the deadline, including weekends. (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convener of the course.)
In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.
The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper, a resit of the paper is possible (50%). In that case the convener of the course may assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.
A resit of the other partial assessments is not possible.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Selections from:

Deeb, Lara and Harb, Mona. 2013. Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Morality in Shi‘ite South Beirut. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Fishcher, Johan. 2011. The Halal Frontier: Muslim Consumers in a Globalized Market. London: Palgrave.
Ghodsee, Kristen. 2010. Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe: Gender, Ethnicity, and the Transformation of Islam in Postsocialist Bulgaria. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hamdy, Sherine. 2012. Our bodies belong to God: Organ transplants, Islam, and the struggle for human dignity in Egypt. Oakland, CA: Univ of California Press.
Kreinath, Jens. ed., 2012. The Anthropology of Islam Reader. Routledge.
Tarlo, Emma. 2010. Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith. London: Bloomsbury.
Varisco, Daniel. 2005. Islam Obscured. The Rhetoric of Anthropological Representation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Some additional readings. A definitive reading list will be made available at the beginning of the course


  • MA Middle Eastern Studies students may enroll directly through uSis. The number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served.

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) students are strongly advised to opt for the Research MA version of the course. They may enroll directly through uSis. The number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served. Students opting for the regular MA version should contact their Coordinator of Studies, dr. N.A.N.M. van Os for information on the enrollment procedure.

  • MA International Relations students should contact their Coordinator of Studies, Drs. E.J. Walstra for information on the enrollment procedure.

  • MA Religious Studies students should contact their Coordinator of Studies, Drs. L.E. van Swieten for information on the enrollment procedure.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.