SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Medieval Arabic Thought

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year


Third-year Arabic or an equivalent level of proficiency in the Arabic language.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of this module, students:

  1. should be familiar with the history of medieval Arabic philosophy and Kalam
  2. should have an understanding of key philosophical and theological concepts, problems and debates, and of their broader historical and intellectual contexts
  3. should be able to read and to understand some types of medieval Arabic philosophical and theological texts both in their original Arabic and in translation
  4. should have competence in examining, contextualising and interpreting historical materials, and
  5. should have competence in analysing medieval intellectual notions and modes of reasoning.


This module is taught over 22 weeks with a total of 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

Taking a historical, analytical and textual approach, this module will examine two major traditions of medieval Arabic thought, namely philosophy and rational theology (kalam). It will start by providing an overview both of the broader history of these traditions, introducing the main systems of thought, schools, figures and debates, and of the contemporary study thereof. The module will then focus on a selection of representative topics, which are likely to vary from session to session. Most will consist of problems and debates in which both philosophers and kalam exponents engaged, which will provide opportunities to shed light on both their doctrines and their contrasting intellectual systems and methods of enquiry. These may include problems relating to ethics, metaphysics, psychology and human nature, and the philosophy of religion. The student will also become acquainted with the style and language of the classical works of philosophy and kalam by reading representative primary texts in both their original Arabic and English translations.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (50%); one essay of 2,500 - 3,000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 2 (25%); one essay of 2,500 - 3,000 words to be submitted on the first day of term 3 (25%).

Suggested reading

  • Adamson, Peter, and Richard Taylor (eds). The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy, Cambridge, 2005.
  • Daiber, Hans. Bibliography of Islamic Philosophy, 2 vols, Leiden, 1999 (plus Supplement).
  • Druart, T.-A. ‘Philosophy in Islam’, in  The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy, Cambridge, 2003, 97-200.
  • Fakhry, Majid. Ethical Theories in Islam, Leiden, 1991.
  • Hourani, George. Reason and Tradition in Islam, Cambridge, 1985.
  • Leaman, Oliver. An Introduction to Classical Islamic Philosophy, Cambridge, 2002.
  • Leaman, Oliver (ed). Biographical Encyclopedia of Islamic Philosophy, 2 vols, Bristol, 2006.
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein and Oliver Leaman (eds). History of Islamic Philosophy, 2 vols, London, 1996.
  • Winter, Tim. The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, Cambridge, 2008.
  • Wolfson, H. A. The Philosophy of the Kalam, Cambridge, MA, 1976.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules