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Regional Trends: Political Islam in the Middle East




Admissions requirements

Any 200-level course in the Transnational Politics track of the Major.


The past three decades has seen a surge in the public visibility of religion around the world, challenging longstanding assumptions that societies would become more secular as they modernised. Political Islam has been at the forefront of this development, with Islamic political parties organising within states and militant transnational networks mounting a more radical and violent challenge to the established political order. But how can we make sense of this complex and diverse phenomenon? Which are the most important of the many competing voices and movements that now claim to speak and act on behalf of Islam? How do they understand politics, the nation-state and democracy? What, if anything, is new about contemporary political Islam? How do groups promoting jihad relate to those pursuing more mainstream and democratic political agendas?

This course examines these questions in the context of the Middle East. It aims to enable students to understand major strands of contemporary political Islam, their historical background, similarities and differences, present significance at the regional, national and subnational levels, and likely future directions. The course begins with a discussion of conceptual and theoretical issues in the study of political Islam, before briefly examining the history of Muslim politics up to the nineteenth century and the rise of modern Islamism. More recent versions of Islamism are approached through country-based case studies organized into three broad types: Islamists competing for power through democratic and pseudo-democratic mobilization; Islamism in self-proclaimed ‘Islamic states’; and Islamic national liberation movements in weak and quasi-states. We then move away from country-based case studies to focus on the transnational jihadist movement, before concluding with discussion of possible future directions Muslim politics in the region might take.

Course objectives

The module is aims to provide a critical examination of the politics of Islam in the Middle East. By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Understand the historical trajectory of political Islam in the twentieth century.

  • Show knowledge of the distinctive goals and strategies of key contemporary Islamic political movements.

  • Show knowledge of the diverse positions taken by proponents of political Islam on issues of authority, the state, democracy, and violence.

  • Demonstrate understanding of the ways in which the goals and strategies of Muslim political movements are shaped by their political and socio-economic contexts.

  • Relate empirical cases to broader thematic and conceptual discussions of political Islam.

  • Think critically about existing theories and narratives of political Islam.

  • Communicate their arguments effectively, orally and in writing.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

The course is taught through two-hour seminars per week. Students will be expected to participate in both large and small group discussions; present and defend their ideas within an academic setting; and take part in group projects. The instructor will facilitate and ensure the efficient running of the discussion, but students are responsible for shaping its direction.


Seminar participation: 15% (ongoing)
Group presentations: 15% (ongoing weeks 3-7)
Short discussion paper based on the presentation: 30% (2000 words; ongoing weeks 4-8)
Final Essay: 40% (3000 words; week 8)


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

We will draw extensively on Peter Mandaville’s Islam and Politics (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014). It is recommended that you buy this book. Other course readings will be distributed before the seminar.

There are a number of useful general works covering political Islam:

  • Ayoob, Mohammed, The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008).

  • Burgat, Francois, Face to Face with Political Islam (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003).

  • Eickelman, Dale F. and James Piscatori (2004), Muslim Politics 2nd edn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).

  • Esposito, John L., Islam and Politics, 4th edn (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1998).

  • Hroub, Khaled (ed.), Political Islam: Context versus Ideology (London: Saqi, 2010).

  • Kepel, Gilles, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, rev. ed. (London: IB Tauris, 2004).

  • Milton-Edwards, Beverley, Islam and Politics in the Contemporary World (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004).

  • Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam (London: IB Tauris, 1994).

  • Volpi, Frédéric (ed.), Political Islam: A Critical Reader (London: Routledge, 2011).


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr. Edmund Frettingham:


The module requires no prior knowledge of the Muslim-majority world, but students who have not studied it before may find it helpful to do some background reading on Islam. Montgomery Watt’s Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961) is the standard biography. On Islamic belief and practice, Roger Du Pasquier’s Unveiling Islam (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1992) and John Esposito’s Islam: The Straight Path, 4th edn. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) are especially good. Albert Hourani’s A History of the Arab Peoples (London: Faber and Faber, 1991) and John O. Voll’s Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modern World (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994) provide some historical background.