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Department of the Study of Religions

Modern Muslim Thinkers from South Asia

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Full Year

In this course we will, on the basis of secondary as well as translated primary readings, take a closer look on life and work of major protagonists of this development, prominent among them Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), Sayyid Amir 'Ali (1849-1928) and Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938). According to the typology of Wilfred Cantwell Smith, each one of them represents a particular approach to Modern Western thought, ranging from emphatic rejection to creative synthesis. These three different approaches, however, correspond to a large extent to different phases in the colonial encounter until independence in 1947. Crucial for a thorough understanding would therefore be a comprehension of the wider social, political, and intellectual context, but also a thorough knowledge of Western Orientalist approaches to the Islamic tradition by scholars like William Muir (1819-1905) and Aloys Sprenger (1813-1893) that became explicitly targeted by the three Muslim thinkers. Moreover, the course will provide an understanding of the different reference points in Western and Islamic philosophical and theological thought. Finally, we will have a look at the logical consequences of each of the three approaches, as well as on their social and political relevance.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • an ability to discuss the historical and cultural contexts in which South Asian Muslim intellectual elites engaged in analyses of Modern Western thought
  • an ability to differentiate between different approaches of Muslim intellectual elites to Modern Western thought
  • an ability to acknowledge the different degrees of the influence of Modern Western thought on various conceptions of South Asian Muslim intellectual elites
  • an ability to acknowledge the creative handling of Islamic philosophical and theological traditions by South Asian Muslim intellectual elites
  • an ability to analyse critically primary source material in the field of Modern Islamic thought and of Western orientalist writing of the Colonial Age and beyond
  • an ability to present orally an introduction and critical discussion of different problems relating to the field to an audience within a given time frame
  • consolidated skills in academic writing in view of the upcoming MA dissertation


One hour lecture,  one hour seminar/tutorial

Method of assessment

One essay (4500-5000 words ) (40% ), one essay (4500-5000 words ) (50% ), 1 oral presentation (10%).