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Muslims in a Global Context: Anthropological Approaches (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) or another relevant Research MA. Students from other programmes are kindly referred to the course description of the regular MA course.


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 is compulsory for all sessions. This is a class based on collaborative dialogue. As such, being prepared to participate in discussions is a course requirement. This entails having read, annotated, and thought about the weekly themes carefully before class starts. Furthermore, you must bring your copy of the text to class every week – in either paper or pdf form. Since we will be engaged in closely examining the texts we read and the language that they use, if you don’t have your text then you are not prepared for class, even if you have read the assignment.

If a student cannot attend because of illness or unforeseen circumstance, they should promptly inform the convener. Extra assignments may be set to make up for missed class time, at the convener’s discretion. Absence without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from assessment components and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

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

In order to pass the course, students need a pass mark (“voldoende”, i.e. “5.50” or higher) for the course as a whole.

Students may submit a topic proposal for feedback before the internal deadline set by the instructor. The final paper grade will be determined on the basis of the final submitted version only. (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is for administrative purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convener.)

All categories of assessment 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 5.49 or lower and this is the result of a paper graded 5.49 or lower, a re-sit of the paper is possible (50%). In that case the convener of the course may decide to assign a (new) topic. The deadline for this version will be determined by the course convener, after consultation with the student.
A resit for other course components is not possible.

Inspection and feedback

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

For the Research MA students additional reading will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ fields of interest. Extra sessions will be organized to discuss this extra literature.


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


Education Administration Office de Vrieshof