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Politics of Religion: Perspectives from the Middle East




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 200-level and 300-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.


The past three decades has seen a surge in the public visibility of religion around the world. 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? How has politics been understood within the Islamic tradition? What, if anything, is new about contemporary political Islam? 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 groups promoting jihad relate to those pursuing more mainstream and even democratic political agendas?

This course examines these questions in the context of the Middle East. It aims to enable students to understand the various strands of contemporary political Islam, their historical background, present significance at the regional, national and subnational levels, and likely future directions. We will look at the practice of Islamic states, as well as subnational and transnational movements including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizbullah, and Al Qaeda. These empirical studies will be drawn on in sessions exploring broader themes, including authority, gender, democracy, violence, and relations with the West. The module will encourage students to think critically about existing theories and narratives of political Islam.

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. *Show knowledge of the distinctive goals and methods of key contemporary Islamic political movements. *Demonstrate understanding of the diverse ways in which proponents of political Islam relate to issues of authority, the state, gender, violence, democracy, and relations between the West and the Muslim-majority world. *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.

Mode of Instruction

The course is taught through two-hour seminars. 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. Each seminar has a ‘required reading’ list that must be read in advance of each seminar. Students are also recommended to read some of the items listed under ‘suggested reading’ prior to each seminar and use the extended list as a starting point in their preparation for essay writing.


Assessment: Seminar Participation
Learning aim: Actively participate in all seminar activities

Assessment: Group Presentations
Learning aim:
Percentage: 15%

Assessment: Individual Take-home Exam
Learning aim: assess your engagement with the course readings
Percentage: 30%
Deadline: 11:59 (note: AM) on Tuesday 3rd December

Assessment: Individual Research Project
Learning aim:
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Thursday 18th December, 23:59


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

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

Mandaville, Peter, Global Political Islam (London: Routledge, 2007).

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

Contact Information

Weekly Overview

To be confirmed:

  1. Introduction: Approaches to Political Islam
  2. Key Concepts
  3. Historical Overview
  4. The Rise of Islamism
  5. Electoral Politics: The Muslim Brotherhood
  6. Islamic States: Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan
  7. Islam and National Liberation: Hamas and Hizbullah
  8. Transnational Politics of Jihad: Al Qaeda
  9. Authority in Islamic Politics
  10. Democracy
  11. Gender
  12. Violence
  13. The West
  14. The Arab Spring and the Future of Political Islam

Preparation for first session

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 a 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, 2nd edn. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) are especially good. John O. Voll’s Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modern World (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994) provides useful historical background.