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The Living Quran


Admission requirements

This class is intended (in order of preference) for:

  • (1) students of the BA Middle Eastern Studies who have successfully completed the propedeutic exam;

  • (2) premaster students for the MA Middle Eastern Studies;

  • (3) students from other programmes. To ensure this course is not over-enrolled, students from other programmes interested in taking the course should contact the coordinator of studies, Eli van Duijnen.


From ancient graffiti, manuscripts, murals, and public monuments to television, social media, and madrasas – the Quran is present in every conceivable medium, sustaining a global conversation of extraordinary breadth, diversity and vibrancy. The text of the Quran has been amazingly stable and well-defined since its recording in the seventh century C.E. This textual continuity might give the impression of a static and unchanging tradition, and surely it is sometimes presented as such. But when we look at how Muslims and non-Muslims have handled the Quran, we see that attitudes do differ over time and places. In this course, we explore the production and reception of the Quran as a text and a material object throughout the centuries. We will investigate the intricacies of the Quran’s text, the complexity of its interpretations, and the variety of its appearance by looking at material and real-life examples. From the debate about the creation of the Quran to the first European translations and contemporary feminist commentaries, we will also examine how different readings of the Quran came into being and how over time these informed fundamental discussions about what it means to be a Muslim. We will also discuss the extent to which various understandings of the Quranic text are reflected in human and societal behaviour.

Course objectives

In this course we study the Quran as a material text, a literary text, and an interpreted text. We look at how people have approached to Quran as a historical phenomenon as well as a living tradition. Students will gain familiarity with the Quran’s text, structure and history, and they will learn about related scholarly debates. First, by looking at the presence of the Quran in the public space and in everyday life – artwork, objects, inscriptions, prayers, poems, amulets, and recitation – students will learn how Muslims and non-Muslims have interacted with the Quran as a sacred text and as a physical object in different places and times. Moreover, they will read parts of the Quran in English translation and they will learn about and compare different translations, both ancient and contemporary. Finally, they will become familiar with extra-Quranic literature, such as classical and modern commentaries. In this way, they will learn about different and competing interpretations of the text. They will be able to understand some important debates surrounding the reading and use of the Quran in different societies.
By learning about resources (reference works, encyclopedias, digital platforms, databases, and digitized collections), the students will be exposed to recent scholarly research on the Quran, including academic conversations that are taking place in the public sphere and on social media. They will be exposed to different approaches for studying the Quran (e.g., as a historical source, a literary text, or a source of law). They will learn about online resources and how to use them responsibly.
Through the weekly assignments and presentations, they will become familiar with and think about some important points of scholarly and public controversy in the study and use of the Quran. By writing two papers, they will learn to analyze texts and objects and to present their insights in written form according to academic standards. They will also be encouraged to work collaboratively with their peers during in-class exercises and team debates.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The lecturer 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). In these cases, it is at the discretion of the lecturer whether 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.
The course format is a combination of seminar discussions, based on weekly reading and viewing assignments, and student-presentations followed by group discussion and feedback.
Students should be aware that most of their work is done in preparation for the seminars. Class discussions offer the opportunity to exchange ideas about the readings, a space to think out-loud, and receive feedback for developing ideas.

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimise overlap between prior and new work.

Students must submit their assignment(s) through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.


The assessment for this course has four components: participation; oral presentation; quiz; written assignments.

The grade for participation takes into account: that the students show to have prepared for class by completing all readings and assignments; that they engage with their peers in class and make an effort to work collaboratively; that they ask relevant questions and make relevant comments. Students are expected to contribute actively to the discussion.

Each student will give a presentation based on the weekly assignments and debate topics. These will be detailed in the Syllabus. The grade for the presentation will take into account the effort put into preparing before class and the presentation skills during class.

In addition to one quiz (in-class), each student will write two short papers (1,500 words each) on assigned topics. These papers are take-home written assignments. Detailed instructions about the two papers will be provided by the instructor. The grade for each paper will take into consideration: preparation and study; accuracy and comprehension of the assigned materials; engagement with the task; appropriateness of style and academic language.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. The class can only be completed when all components have been completed (not necessarily with a passing grade).

  • Attendance and Participation: 20%

  • Presentation: 15%

  • Quiz: 15%

  • Written papers (2): 50%


If the weighted average of the three grades is not a passing grade, students will have the chance to take a resit exam to increase the weighted average to a passing grade. In this case, the resit exam will count for 50% of the total grade.

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

  • Michael Cook, The Koran. A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

  • While we will look at various translations, everyone should have access to one of the following two English translation of the Quran: N.J. Dawood, “The Koran”. Penguin Classics, 2003; M. A. Abdel Haleem, “The Qur’an: A new translation”. Oxford University press, 2004.

  • Additional weekly readings. All information will be detailed in the Syllabus and on Brightspace.

Each week the students will read ca. 40-60 verses from the Quran in English translation and ca. 40-50 pages of secondary literature (from Cook's Koran and assigned readings).


  • Students who started the BA Middle Eastern Studies in 20-21: Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.

  • Students who started the BA Middle Eastern Studies before 20-21: please contact the coordinator of studies, Eli van Duijnen.

  • Premaster students starting in 22-23: will be enrolled by the Education Administration Office de Vrieshof. Further information on availability and the enrolment procedure will be provided by email in July.

  • Students from other programmes: on availability, please contact the coordinator of studies, Eli van Duijnen, after September, 1.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: De Vrieshof.