SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Culture and Society of Near and Middle East

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1

This course will introduce students to the study of the Near and Middle East, through a variety of interconnected topics that have been important in the anthropological literature on the region. The course uses material on countries such as Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Jordan, and may also include literature on Muslims in South East Asia and Europe. It seeks to balance ethnography and theory, drawing attention to contributions made to wider debates in the discipline.

The module also encourages participants to consider how anthropological and historical understandings of the Near and Middle East help us understand the fundamentally interconnected and global nature of any artificially constructed region or area. Crucial to achieving greater understanding of these dynamics is attention to contemporary social and political dynamics in and about the region.


  • Students enrol via the online Module Sign-Up system.
  • MA Area Studies students wishing to take this module as their ‘major’ will normally hold a degree or substantial part-degree in social anthropology or a closely related discipline. Area Studies students wishing to take this module as their ‘major’ must contact the module convenor for approval.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, students will have acquired the following skills:

  • General intellectual and research skills: Through the programme of seminars, classes, and course assignments, students will learn to assess data and evidence critically from manuscripts and digital sources, solve problems of conflicting sources and conflicting interpretations, locate materials, use research sources (particularly research library catalogues) including on-line resources, and other relevant traditional sources.
  • Subject specific skills: Students will be exposed to a range of themes in the societies and cultures of the Near and Middle East which are critically examined within an anthropological framework.
  • Practical skills: Students will learn to communicate effectively in writing; retrieve, sift and select information from a variety of sources; listen and discuss ideas that are introduced during seminars; practice research techniques in a variety of specialised libraries and institutes.
  • Transferable skills: The course will encourage students to write good essays; structure and communicate ideas effectively both orally and in writing; understand unconventional ideas and think critically about ‘commonsense’ assumptions; study a variety of written and digital materials in libraries and research institutes of a kind they will not have used as undergraduates.

This will form a base which will enable MA Anthropology students to write their dissertations (10,000 words) on a topic relating to the Near and Middle Easet should they so wish.

Scope and syllabus

  • Week 1. Colonialism and the Construction of “the Middle East”
  • Week 2. Violence, Peace, and Conflict
  • Week 3. The “Arab Spring”: Revolutions Ongoing
  • Week 4. Considering the Urban
  • Week 5. Palestine at the Crux: International solidarity now and then
  • Week 6. (Reading week)
  • Week 7. The State: Political Power of Symbols
  • Week 8. Art and Expressive Culture
  • Week 9. Gender and Islam
  • Week 10. The “War on Terror” and Neo-colonialism
  • Week 11. Memory, History and the Present: What is the nation now?

Method of assessment

  • AS1: Assignment - 20%
  • AS2: x2 Reading response papers - 20%
  • AS3: Essay - 50%
  • Seminar participation: 10%

Suggested reading

Class lectures and discussions will assume that you have a basic understanding of the historical outlines of modern Middle Eastern history. Useful texts for gaining this understanding:

  • Cleveland, William L. 2009. A History of the Modern Middle East. Fourth Edition. Westview Press.
  • Gelvin, James. 2011. The Modern Middle East: A History. Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Esposito, John. 2005. Islam: The Straight Path. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Smith, Charles D. 2012. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Eighth Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, Palgrave Macmillan.

Representative Materials: 

  • L. Abu-Lughod - Writing women’s worlds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). 
  • Y. Navaro-Yashin - Faces of the State (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2002)
  • G. Starratt - Putting Islam to Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).
  • Z. Mir-Hosseini - Marriage on Trial (London: I.B.Tauris 1993).
  • D. Eickelman - The Middle East: an anthropological approach (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Revised edition, 1989).
  • M. Marsden & K. Retsikas, eds. Articulating Islam: Anthropological Approaches to Muslim Worlds (Dortrecht: Springer 2013)
  • P. Werbner et al, The Political Aesthetics of Global Protest (University of Edinburgh Press 2014).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules