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Department of the Study of Religions

Messianic Movements in Islamic History

Course Code:
158000149
Unit value:
0.5
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1
In this advanced UG course the scope of core elements of Islamic eschatology will be investigated, in relation to various social and political developments in the Muslim world from the early medieval to the contemporary period. The focus will hereby not be exclusively on explicitly Islamic formulations, but include prominently also movements that have increasingly departed from its Islamic roots and given rise even to distinct religious traditions, as is the case, for example, with the Bahāʾī. One question that run through the entire course is whether “messianism” as a socio-religious phenomenon is ultimately linked to social and political protest.
Students taking this course are expected to have at least basic knowledge of Islam from a non-faith-based perspective; preferably also in the history and religious particularities of the Shiʿi denominations.
This course is taught in seminar style, i.e. there will not be any formal division in lecture and tutorial, but a reading-based classroom discussion with the occasional elucidation by the course tutor.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • apply sociological categories that were developed for the explanation of religious millenarianism in general to specific phenomena in an Islamic context;
  • assess the interdependence of religious and political authority both in general and in specific relation to Islamic traditions;
  • assess the relationship of messianism with religious orthodoxy in the Islamic tradition;
  • identify the denominational variant understandings of the concept of “mahdī”, its soteriological role and possible non-Islamic origins;
  • general undergraduate skills, e.g. in writing, critical thinking and argument, necessary for the academic study of a religion within a Study-of-Religions framework.

Method of assessment

One essay (3,000 words) (50%), Two-hour exam (50%).

Suggested reading

  • Blichefeldt, J-O. (1985) Early Mahdism: politics and religion in the formative period of Islam, Leiden.
  • Sachedina, A. A. (1981) Islamic Messianism: The Idea of the Mahdi in Twelver Shiism, Albany.
  • Halm, H. (1996) The Empire of the Mahdi: the Rise of the Fatimids, Leiden.