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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 and (3) students from other programmes. Please contact the Student advisor Eli van Duijnen to find out whether you are admitted to this class.


From ancient graffiti, manuscripts and public monuments to films, television, websites, cassette tapes, social medias 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 some Muslims and non-Muslims present it as such. But when we look at how Muslims and non-Muslims handle the Quran we see that attitudes do differ over time and place.
In this course we explore the production and use of the Quran as a text and material object throughout the centuries of its existence. We will investigate the intricacies of the Quran’s text, the complexity of its interpretation, and the variety of its appearance by looking at 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 these informed fundamental discussions about what it means to be a Muslim and the relationship between Islam and other cultures. But we will also discuss the extent to which Muslim behaviour is influenced by the Quranic text and (whether and) how various understandings and evaluations are reflected in human behaviour.

Course objectives

Students will gain a familiarity with the structure and history of the Quranic text and related scholarly debates. They will have read parts of the Quran and compared interpretations of the text in commentaries, legal, historical and theological debates. By looking at the presence of the Quran in the public space – inscriptions, sayings and every-day speech, amulets, letters, recitation, interreligious debates – they will understand how Muslims and non-Muslims interact with the Quran as text and physical object on a daily basis in different places and periods. They will have learned to present these insights in written form according to academic standards. They will have learned to formulate and express an opinion on the basis of scholarly literature in spoken interventions.



Mode of instruction

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors need 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.

Course Load

Total course load 5EC x 28 hours 140 hrs
Lectures (13 x 2) 26
Preparation tutorials 10
Study of compulsory literature 39
Final paper 65

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) to the blackboard through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.


Partial Assessment Weighing
Attendance and Participation 10%
Argued discussion of weekly thesis 20%
Final paper 70%

The final paper consists of a (1) close reading, (2) comparison of translations; (3) discussion of commentary/ies and (4) analysis of current application of a small section of the Quran.


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


If the weighted average of the three grades is not a passing grade, the final paper can be resubmitted to increase the weighted average to a passing 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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Blackboard will be used to communicate with the students about assignments, readings and other class related matters.

Reading list

Michael Cook, The Quran. A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
English translation of the Quran. For example: N.J. Dawood, The Quran. Penguin Classics.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Prof.dr. P.M. Sijpesteijn


All other information.