SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Culture and Society of Near and Middle East

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2021/2022
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
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, and Palestine, 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 this module a student will be able to:

  1. critically evaluate a range of theories and ethnographic source material relating to the Near & Middle East
  2. locate and use secondary sources relevant to selected topics
  3. discuss ideas, arguments, and information in a seminar setting

Developing regional expertise is a key component of the study of anthropology, and central to programmes across the school. The learning outcomes are designed to ensure that students develop a solid grounding in the anthropology of the Near and Middle East, refine their ability to critically engage diverse literatures and communicate their knowledge in a variety of ways. These processes of comprehension, analysis and communication are central to all anthropology programmes, as well as to the broader humanities and social sciences at SOAS.

Scope and syllabus

  • Week 1. Introduction to the Module: Anthropology and Representing the “Middle East”: The Politics of Knowledge Production about the Middle East
  • Week 2. The State and the Political Power of Symbols: Syria and the Sahara
  • Week 3. Lebanon & Confessionalism
  • Week 4. The Arab Spring, Egypt and Revolution
  • Week 5. Transnational Life, Solidarity and Identity
  • Week 6. (Reading week)
  • Week 7. Muslims and the Middle East in Europe
  • Week 8. Israel/Palestine and Turkey– Gendering Resistance & Repression
  • Week 9. Iraq: Waste, War, & Infrastructure
  • Week 10. Saudi Arabia & The Gulf
  • Week 11. Iran: Youth in the Middle East

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