SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Comparative Study of Islam: Anthropological Perspectives B (Masters)

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2016/2017
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

The course is concerned less with theoretical debates within the anthropology of Islam which are mainly covered in ‘The comparative study of Islam- Anthropological perspectives A’, and more with ethnographic complexity, particularity and detail. It focuses on ethnographic works undertaken in three different settings – Near & Middle East, South Asia, and South East Asia- and explores in depth the contemporary place and relevance of Islam with regards to three particular issues - Islam’s relation to the state, Islamic educational institutions and practices, and discourses and practices of gender. The course draws on available regional expertise within the department of anthropology and sociology, and is delivered by three different lecturers. 

The course offers students the possibility of drawing new connections among the established regions of anthropological study currently taught at SOAS while shying away from imposing a monolithic and totalising conception of Islam as a unified and coherent ‘space’ with a centre – the Arab world- and a periphery.

. It is expected that, at the end of the course, students will have acquired a sense of the diversity and the complexity of Islamic cultures and societies and the ability to engage with questions such as those above both critically and constructively.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Course Objectives:

  • To introduce students to the diversity of the ways of being Muslim in the world today, and enable them to develop a critical understanding of the sources and the manifestations of this diversity, as well as, of the contemporary struggles over religious authority and orthodoxy in several parts of the Muslim world.
  • To enable students to identify and assess Islam’s multiple and diverse entanglements with ideas and practices relating to gender, education, and the interface between society and the state, and to foster a comparative attitude in the study of these phenomena as developed within this course.
  • To provide students with a supportive context for a critical appraisal by the students of the intersections of regional anthropological concerns with an over-arching anthropology of Islam.
  • To enable students to develop their own professional and personal interests through participation in this course.
  • To support students in the development of a range of skills relevant to the understanding of the vitality and the complexity of Islam’s place in the contemporary world.

At the end of the course, a student should:

  • have gained knowledge and a nuanced understanding of the complexity and the diversity of the practice of Islam both within and across the regions under consideration as provided within this course.
  • be able to discuss and assess critically the materials, themes, issues, and debates explored in the course.
  • have acquired a conceptual framework and specialised tools for the comparative study of Islam.

Scope and syllabus

Questions the course is asking include the following:

  • What is it to be a woman or a man in different parts of the Islamic world? 
  • In what ways do projects of social reform, including action in gendered spheres, articulate with the sphere of religion? 
  • What are the key institutions and practices that support and maintain religious learning? 
  • Who are Islam’s esteemed men (and women) of learning? 
  • What sort of regional, national, and trans-national networks are in place that facilitate the flow of religious knowledge? 
  • What kinds of entanglements characterise the relation of Muslim organisations and the state in different parts of the Islamic world? 
  • What are the forms that Muslim politics takes and what accounts for their multiplicity? 
  • How do Muslim politics differ between states where Muslims are a majority and those where they are a minority community? 
  • Can we delineate a specifically Muslim notion of ‘public sphere’?

Method of assessment

One written examination (70%) plus one essay (3-3,500 words) (30%)

Suggested reading

  • Bowen, J. 1998. What is Universal and Local in Islam. Ethos 26: 258-61.
  • Geertz, C. 1968. Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
  • Manger, L. 1999. Muslim Diversity: Local Islam in Global Contexts. Richmond: Curzon.
  • Eickelman, D. 1982. The Study of Islam in Local Contexts. Contributions to Asian Studies. 17: 1-16.

Online course outline - Term 2.


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