SOAS University of London

School of Law

Religion and Comparative Constitutionalism

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Term 2

The module will allow students to engage in high level debates on religion and constitutionalism against the background of (1) the rise of the so-called Islamic constitutionalism since the 1970s and the accumulation of constitutional jurisprudence to address the role of religious law in constitutionalism; (2) Constitution-making after the Arab Spring led to a contentious process with specific reference to the role of religious law in the constitutional text and practice. Unlike other modules that focus on Islamic law, here the interest in Islamic law is the extent to which it interacts with constitutional law, and the focus is more on public aspects rather than private law arrangements of Islamic law. The module contextualizes the debates on Islamic constitutionalism within North American and European debates in constitutional theory and political theory to show the similarity between these debates. It illustrates how different approaches to conceptualizing both religion and constitutionalism may lead to different consequences and constitutional arrangements.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • Identify the variety of existing constitutional regimes with respect to religion and comparatively evaluate them;
  • Critically examine the concept and practice of “Islamic constitutionalism” in Islamic-majority states in the Middle East and beyond;
  • Problematize the distinction between western secular and Islamic religious constitutional orders through applying a comparative approach to demystify the question of religion in the Middle East;
  • Have a sophisticated inter-disciplinary approach to religion through mastery of a variety of historical, sociological, philosophical and anthropological texts on the religious experience;
  • Evaluate case studies like Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Iran and U.S. from a comparative perspective while distinguishing between conceptual approaches and pragmatic (anti-formalist, anti-foundational) approaches to debates on religion and constitutionalism;
  • Apply critical legal tools (like legal realism, critical legal studies, and post-structuralism) to the study of religion, society and the constitution in the context of the Middle East.

Method of assessment

  • Three reaction papers each worth 10% (1000 words)
  • Coursework: 70% (3500 words)

Suggested reading

  • Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (Trans. Carol Cosman, Oxford University Press, 2001)
  • Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons for Power in Christianity and Islam (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993)
  • Amr Shalakany, “Islamic Legal Histories”, 1 Berkeley Journal of Middle East & Islamic Law 2 (2008)
  • Harold Berman, “Religious Foundations of Law in the West: an Historical Perspective”, Journal of Law and Religion, vol. 1: 1, pp. 3-43 (1983).
  • Nimer Sultany, “Religion and Constitutionalism: Lessons from American and Islamic Constitutionalism”, Emory International Law Review, vol. 28, pp. 345-424 (2014).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules