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Theories and Methods of Middle East and Islamic Studies 2


Admission requirements

Enrolment in the MA Middle Eastern Studies or MA in International Studies. Students who are not admitted to one of these programs should contact the course convener.


“Theory is always for someone and for some purpose.” – Robert Cox (1981)
“The students proposed impossible fieldwork to answer unanswerable questions. Even many active scholars had problems with the basic questions: What do you want to find out? How are you going to find it out? and, above all, How would you know if you were right or wrong?” – King, Keohane, and Verba (2004)
“Cui bono?”- Susan Strange (repeatedly throughout her career)


This course is designed to introduce students to the theoretical foundations, methodological debates, and methods engaged in Middle East studies. This course has two central aims. The first aim is to encourage students to think about broad questions related to epistemology, ontology and methodology in relation to the design of their own thesis projects in particular, and research on the Middle East more broadly. The second aim is to train students in the research design process, with the ultimate outcome being a proposal for their individual theses. In addition to preparing them for their own research, the research methods course exposes students to methodological debates and approaches in order to help them develop the ability to critically assess academic work. Crucially, the course encourages students to engage and confront the methodological challenges which arise in a multidisciplinary context and think constructively on the historical evolution and trajectory of research on the modern Middle East.

Course objectives

  • Understand epistemological, ontological, and methodological divides and issues in research on the Middle East

  • Write and present clear research questions and summaries

  • Learn how to design an effective and feasible research project that contributes to studies on the Middle East

  • Recognize appropriate methods for diverse research projects

  • Utilise ontological and methodological debates in critiquing research on the Middle East



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

EC: 10 (= 280 hours)

  • Attending seminars: 30 hours

  • Reading / studying material: 125 hours

  • Completing assignments: 125 hours

Assessment method


I. Engagement 40% (Ongoing)
a. Participation (10%)
b. Rapporteur Presentation & Handout (5%)
c. Research Question Workshop (10%)
d. Method Selection Workshop (15%)

II. 2 Short Reaction Papers 25% (Choice of 2 weeks between Weeks 2 and 8)

III. Paper: Methodological Book Review 35% (X December 2014)


I. Engagement
a. Participation: Students are expected to attend and participate in course discussions. Since this is a seminar, thoughtful engagement is central to the course’s success. Students are therefore required to complete all readings in advance and attend all seminars.
b. Rapporteur Presentation and Handout: At the start of each class, a student will present a 5 to 10 minute summary of the discussion of the preceding seminar as well as distribute a one page rapporteur report. The report should include key points and debates engaged during the seminar. A sign-up sheet will be available in the first class. The report should be uploaded to the drop-box on Blackboard two days before the student presents in order to allow classmates time to view the notes.
c. Research Question Workshop: Students are to prepare and bring a list of three research questions on the topic they intend to pursue for their graduate thesis to class on Week 4. All students will present their research question to the class, and the class will constructively critique the questions based on the previous week’s lesson.
d. Method Selection Workshop (Presentation): In the latter half of the course (depends on enrolment), students will each take a turn presenting a brief overview of their thesis research topic to the class. Students will provide a 500-word summary to the Lecturer and an assigned discussant two full days before class. The presentation should include the research question, identify why it is interesting and the literature gap it addresses, and describe a proposed set of methods and how that set of methods will answer the research question. The presentation is worth 10% of the final grade. The discussant should prepare a brief critique and questions, rooted in the literature of the course. Discussant duties equal 5% of the final grade.

II. Short Reaction Papers
Students are to write two short response papers in response to the readings of two separate weeks. Students must choose the week they will write about from weeks 2-8. The paper must be submitted in hard copy and on Blackboard before the class begins which covers those readings. Papers must be between 600 and 800 words (no more than one, double-sided page). Papers should demonstrate an understanding of the all the readings from that week and present an argument based on their interpretation of the readings. Please note that this is an analytical rather than a descriptive exercise. Do not summarize! No additional sources are required. Students have the choice of identifying unanswered questions, commenting on the shape of a debate, or criticising the assumptions of specific authors, among other things. No additional sources are required. Hard copies must be submitted before the class begins or they will not be accepted and the student will have to choose another week. Late papers will not be accepted under any circumstances. I therefore advise you to plan your schedule early and recommend you finish the reaction papers in the earlier weeks rather than the later ones.

III. Final Paper (Methodological Book Review)
Drawing on the epistemological and methodological readings in class, students will assess the methodological approach of a text. A short selection of books will be provided to students to choose from for their review. This review will summarize and critically analyze the book, making extensive reference to readings covered in class. The total length of the review should be between 2500 and 3000 words. The summary component may not exceed 750 words, and should identify the research problem or puzzle the author is analysing and their methodological approach. Papers should be clear and succinct, with the student’s central argument appearing on the first page. Papers should be submitted on blackboard by the due date (TBD) Late papers will lose 5% per day, and will not be accepted more than 5 days after the due date, including weekends.

Note: All essay assignments should be 1.5 spacing, with a standard font size (e.g. 12 pt Times New Roman or 10 pt Arial). Students should not go over the maximum word limit and should not adjust page margins. Students should use a consistent referencing style throughout their paper. Chicago Manual of Style with footnotes is preferred. (If you are unfamiliar with this method of citation, please refer to )

Note 2: A new version of the final assignment may be written if the overall mark for the course is “5.49” or lower. If students takes this option, they must choose an alternative book from the list of approved books to review. They will not be permitted to resubmit the same book review. The deadline for this version will be determined in consultation.


Blackboard is used for submission of assignments and for uploading assignment material to share with classmates.

Reading list

The booktitles and / or syllabi to be used in the course, where it can be purchased and how this literature should be studied beforehand.


  1. Zachary Lockman, Contending Visions of the Middle East, Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010
    1. Alan Bryman, Social Research Methods 4th edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012
    2. Other course readings are available in electronic format through the library catalogue or online. Other materials will be available through Blackboard.

Recommended: – This course assumes students have read Edward Said’s Orientalism. If you have not read this text, you will need to finish it before week two.


The graduate methods course will consist of 12 seminars with the following topics:
1. Introduction: Demystifying Methods

  • Stenhouse, Lawrence, “What Counts as Research?” British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. XXIX, No. 2, June 1981: 103-114

  • Adrian, Adams. “An Open Letter to a Young Researcher,” African Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 313; October 1979: 451-479 (read 451-452 and 471-79 well, skim the rest).

  • Bryman, Chapter 1. “The Nature and Process of Social Research,” in Social Research Methods.

  • Lockman, Zachary, “Introduction,” and Chapter 2, “Islam, the West and the Rest,” in Contending Visions of the Middle East, Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010.


  • Lockman, Chapter 1, “In the Beginning,” in Contending Visions.

2. The Philosophy of Science, and Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences

  • Kuhn, Thomas. Chapter 1, “A Role for History,” pp 1-10, and Chapter 13, “Progress through Revolutions,” pp 159-72 in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).

  • Bernstein, Steven, Richard Ned Lebow, Janice Gross Stein, and Steven Weber, “God Gave Physics the Easy Problems: Adapting Social Science to an Unpredictable World,” European Journal of International Relations, Vol. 6, No, 1: 43-76.

  • Timothy Mitchell, “The Middle East in the Past and Future of Social Science,” in David Szanton (ed), The Politics of Knowledge: Area Studies and the Disciplines. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004: 74-118.

3. Formulating the Research Question: Causal Ontologies
(Deductive and Inductive Research / the qualitative, quantitative, and interpretive divide)

  • Mahoney, James and Gary Goertz, “A Tale of Two Cultures: Contrasting Quantitative and Qualitative Research,” Political Analysis, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2006: 227-249

  • Bryman, Chapter 2, “Social Research Strategies,” Chapter 3, “Research Designs,” and Chapter 4, “Planning a Research Project and Formulating Research Questions,” Social Research Methods

  • Research examples: (one large n and one small n study on MENA)

Popper, Karl. “Science as Falsification,” in Conjectures and Refutations (New York: Basic Books, 1962). Available online at

4. Unpacking the Research Question: On Exceptionalism, Structure and Agency in the Studying the Middle East

  • Harik, Iliya, “Democracy, ‘Arab Exceptionalism,’ and Social Science,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 60, No. 4, Autumn 2006: 664-684

  • Lust, Ellen, “Missing the Third Wave: Islam, Institutions, and Democracy in the Middle East,” Studies in Comparative International Development, Vol. 46, Issue 2, June 2011: 163-190.

  • Wedeen, Lisa, “Practicing Piety, Summoning Groups: Disorder as Control,” in Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008: 148-185.

  • Nonneman, Gerd. “Rentiers and Autocrats, Monarchs and Democrats, State and Society: the Middle East Between Globalization, Human ‘Agency’, and Europe,” International Affairs, Vol. 77, Issue 1. 2001: 141–162.

5. Western Power and Knowledge of the Middle East

  • Lockman, Chapters 3 and 4 in Contending Visions.

  • Franco, Jean. “Beyond Ethnocentrisim: Gender, Power, and Third-World Intelligentsia,” in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (ed), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1988: 503-515.


  • Foucault, Michel. “Truth and Power,” in Paul Rabinow (ed), The Foucault Reader. New York: Panthon Books, 1984: 51-75

  • Khouri, Rami, “Drop the Orientalist Term ‘Arab Spring,’” The Daily Star. August 17, 2011. Available online:

6. Approaching the Middle East I: Gender and Orientalism

  • Lockman, Chapters 5 and 6 in Contending Visions

  • Ahmed, Leila. “The Discourse of the Veil,” in Women and Gender in Islam, Yale University Press, 1992:144-168

  • Shehabi, Ala’a. “A Problematic Discourse: Who Speaks for Arab Women?” Open Democracy, 17 December 2012. Available online:

  • Mikdashi, Maya. “How Not to Study Gender in the Middle East,” Jadaliyya (March 21, 2012)


  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (ed), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1988: 271-313

  • Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Topless Protests Raise the Question: Who Can Speak for Muslim Women?” The National. 30 November 2013.

7. Approaching the Middle East II: Area Studies and the Social Sciences

  • Teti, Andrea, “Bridging the Gap: IR, Middle East Studies and the Disciplinary Politics of the Area Studies Controversy,” European Journal of International Relations, Vol. 13, No. , 2007: 117-145.

  • Gause III, F. Gregory. “Systemic Approaches to Middle East International Relations,” International Studies Review, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Spring 1999: 11–31.

  • Acharya, Amitav, “International Relations and Area Studies: Towards a New Synthesis,” Presented to the Workshop on the Future of Interdisciplinary Area Studies in the UK, St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, 6-7 December 2005. Available online:

8. Approaching the Middle East III: Qualitative Versus Quantitative Research on the Region

  • Lockman, Chapter 7, “After Orientalism?” in Contending Visions.

  • Bryman, skim Chapter 7, “The Nature of Quantitative Research,” and read Chapter 17, “The Nature of Qualitative Research,” in Social Research Methods

  • Kennedy, Mark C. “Dilemmas of Middle Eastern Social Sciences: Contours of the Problem of the Relevance of Western Paradigms as Guides to Research, Policy and Practice,” 65-80

  • Halliday, Fred. “Orientalism and its Critics,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, 1993: 145-163.

  • TBA: research examples

9. Research Design I: Problem Solving and Critical Theory / Proposal writing and the Literature review

  • Anderson, Lisa, “Politics in the Middle East: Opportunities and Limits in the Quest for Theory,” in Mark Tessler et al (eds), Area Studies and Social Science: Strategies for Understanding the Middle East. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999: 1-10.

  • Cox, Robert. “Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies, Vol. 10. No. 2, 1981: 126-155

  • Bryman, Chapter 5, “Getting Started: Reviewing the Literature,” in Social Research Methods.

  • George, Alexander and Andrew Bennett, “Case Studies and Policy-Relevant Theory,” in Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005: 263-286.

  • Writing Centre, University of Toronto: “Writing a Literature Review,” and “The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting it,”

  • Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination. London: Sage Publications, 1998.

10. Analysing Research I: Case Studies, Process Tracing, and Historical Analysis

  • Tansey, Oisin, “Process Tracing and Elite Interviewing: A Case for Non-Probability Sampling,” Political Science and Politics, Vol. 40, No. 4, October 2007: 765-772.

  • Seawright, Jason and John Gerring, “Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research: A Menu of Qualitative and Quantitative Options,” Political Research Quarterly, Vol 61, No. 2, June 2008: 294-308.

  • George and Bennett, “Process-Tracing and Historical Explanation,” Case Studies and Theory Development, 2005: 205-232.

  • Research sample on MENA


  • If you have not taken a research methods course in the past, acquaint yourself with Bryman, Chapter 18, “Sampling in Qualitative Research,” chapter 23, “Documents as Sources of Data, and 24, “Qualitative Data Analysis,” in Social Research Methods.

  • George, Alexander and Andrew Bennett. Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005

11. Analysing Research II: From Interviews to Ethnography

  • If you have not taken a research methods course in the past, acquaint yourself with Bryman Chapter 19, “Ethnography and Participant Observation,” chapter 20, “Interviewing in Qualitative Research,” chapter 21, “Focus Groups,” and chapter 22, “Language in Qualitative Research” in Social Research Methods

  • Vrasti, W. “Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Methodology and Love Writing.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 39(1), 2010: 79-88.

  • Research Examples (TBD)


  • Vrasti, W. “The Strange Case of Ethnography and International Relations.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 37(2), 2008: 279–301

  • Rancatore, J. “It Is Strange: A Reply to Vrasti.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 39(1), 2010: 65-77

12. Research Ethics and Course Summary

  • Bryman, Chapter 6, “Ethics and Politics in Social Research,” in Social Research Methods

  • POMEPS, The Ethics of Research on the Middle East Memos:

  • Social Research Association, Ethical Guidelines, 2003: pp 13-40

  • Hollis, Martin. “A Value-Neutral Social Science?” in The Philosophy of Social Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994: 202-223.

  • Bryman, Chapter 26, “Breaking Down the Quantitative Qualitative Divide,” in Social Research Methods.


  • Panel on Research Ethics, Online Tutorial. Complete tutorial before class: Available online:

  • Patton, Michael Quinn. “Ethical Challenges in Qualitative Interviewing,” in Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods, 3rd edition. London and Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2002: 405-417


  • George, Alexander and Andrew Bennett. Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005

  • Marshall, Catherine and Gretchen B. Rossman. Designing Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks and London: Sage Publications, 2011

  • Patton, Michael Quinn, Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods, 3rd Edition, Thousand Oaks and London: Sage Publications, 2002

  • Scheyvens, Regina and Donovan Storey. Development Fieldwork: A Practical Guide. Thousand Oaks and London: Sage Publications, 2003


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


The best way to communicate with me is during office hours or via email. I will respond to emails within 2 business days. Please note that this means inquiries about an assignment the day before the due date will not guarantee a response before the due date.

Any matters beyond short questions should be addressed during my office hours or by appointment.



Academic Integrity

Students are advised to familiarize themselves with Leiden University’s policies on plagiarism:

Violations of academic integrity will be met with severe penalties.

Course Policies


  • Students are expected to attend all seminars, and can be penalized should they have an unreasonable number of absences throughout the semester.

  • Students should arrive to class early. If late, they should not enter the class until the break.


  • All written assignments should be 1.5 spaced, with a standard font size (e.g. 12 pt Times New Roman or 10 pt Arial). Students should not go over the maximum word/page limit and should not adjust page margins.

  • Students must use one reference style accurately and consistently throughout their assignments. Chicago Manual of Style with footnotes is strongly recommended.

  • Late assignments will be penalized 5% per day, including weekends.

  • No assignment will be accepted more than five days after the due date unless prior arrangements have been made with the instructor. Extensions are granted at the sole discretion of the instructor. Students are advised to back up their work and complete their assignments in advance. Technical difficulties and random last minute mayhem will not be accepted as valid excuses for extension.

  • Plagiarism is a serious offense and could result in a failing grade for the assignment and/or the course as well as disciplinary action by the department or the University. At this stage, students are expected to know how to source appropriately. As well, they should neither present someone else’s work as their own nor submit papers that are significantly similar in more than one course. Students should familiarize themselves with the University’s policies on plagiarism. Should they have questions or concerns about what may constitute a violation of academic integrity, they should speak with the instructor.


  • Cell phones and other mobile devices must be off or on silent mode throughout the entire class period.

  • Laptops and tablets will be permitted in the class during lectures only for the purpose of taking notes.