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Diasporas and Minorities in the Middle East


Admission requirements

Priority will be given to BA Middle Eastern Studies students.


The social, economic, political, and legal status of Middle East minority and diaspora populations have long been used as a lens through which to evaluate the policies and even legitimacy of regimes governing the region’s states. Local opposition groups, foreign powers, non-governmental organizations, and other actors have asserted the need to defend minorities from state power and/or the hegemony of majority populations. Such assertions have frequently been used to justify violent responses to perceived discrimination and marginalization. In addition, authoritarian regimes have frequently justified their enduring domination of the state by depicting themselves as protectors of minority populations, and by hinting of apocalyptic outcomes if they are removed from power.
This seminar will explore the interrelated nature of these phenomena over time and in the emergence of the modern nation-state in the Middle East starting in the late 19th century . In particular, it will explore the various ways in which minorities and diaspora populations have acquired, articulated, and wielded forms of agency. Together we will examine how minority and diaspora populations utilize self and external identifications in struggles for power that simultaneously challenge and uphold the authority of the state.

Course objectives

  • to develop the skills and insights that are necessary to evaluate existing research and to design and carry out empirical research projects;

  • to obtain familiarity with the theories developed in social sciences and their application in the study of the Middle East;

  • to understand the merits and drawbacks of these theories both in general and in specific cases;

  • to develop and carry out a small research project on a well-defined topic, based on primary source texts;

  • to report on research findings orally (by reading a paper) and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of historical scholarship.
    This course explores how self and externally identified minority and diaspora members negotiate historically constructed relationships vis-à-vis state and majority populations. Students will engage with prevailing assumptions about (1) the “primordial” nature of minority and diasporic identities, (2) fixed social boundaries of minority and diasporic populations, and (3) the perception of minorities and diasporas as passive, endangered victims of the nation-state building process.


Time table

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and participation are obligatory. Classes missed for a good reason (to the discretion of the conveners and to be discussed BEFORE the class takes place) will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

2 contact hours per week: 13×2= 26 hours

  • Reading for each class: 3×13= 39 hours

  • Preparing the presentation: 10 hours

  • Two in-class exams: 13 hours

  • Final paper: 52 hours

Assessment method

Each student will be graded on the basis of four formal assignments:

  • (1) Attendance and Class Participation (20%),

  • (2) In-class presentations (20%),

  • (3) Two in-class exams (30%), and

  • (4) Final Paper due via Blackboard. (30%).

Reading list

  • Bedross Der Matossian. Shattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2014.

  • Ussama Makdasi. The Culture of Sectarianism. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000.

  • Shira Robinson. Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the Birth of Israel’s Liberal Settler State. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2013.

  • (Other selected readings)





Mw. Dr. T. Nalbantian


Students with disabilities
The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

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).