SOAS University of London

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

Modern Trends in Islam

Module Code:
Taught in:
Full Year
This course will introduce students to the study of contemporary Islam by exploring a variety of interrelated religious and social topics. It will draw on theory and methods from the study of religions in general (e.g. sociology and psychology of religion, hermeneutics, and phenomenology), as well as Islamic studies in particular, in order to illuminate key areas of debate and discussion, while not excluding other approaches, such as anthropology, law, and gender studies, where appropriate.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The course aims to:

  • give students an understanding of the complexity and variety of expressions of Islam in the contemporary world
  • provide students with the theoretical and methodological tools to enable them to critically appraise these expressions
  • enable students to access and evaluate diverse types of (primary and secondary) texts and materials and to develop a critical viewpoint on the issues covered


The course is taught through a combination of lectures and seminars. Class contact time is approximately three hours per week.

Scope and syllabus

In covering religious and social aspects of contemporary Islam, the course attends both to religious practice, values and discourse and to the role of religion in society. The former could include such topics as scripture and its interpretation (which of course is not without social and political implications), patterns of religious authority, the centrality of Shari’a law and its interpretation, and religious experience and identity (including conversion to Islam and expressions of mysticism and spirituality, particularly within Sufism), while the latter could include gender and sexuality, interfaith relations, expressions of the ‘New Age’ in Islam, and issues affecting the Muslim diaspora in the West. While not central to the course, political issues will be touched upon (particularly in relation to Jihadism and radicalisation). Within this thematic approach, students will be introduced as appropriate to key Muslim thinkers such as Muhammad Abduh, Abdolkarim Soroush, and Fazlur Rahman.

Method of assessment

One written examination taken in May/June (50%); an essay of 3,000 words to be submitted on Wednesday, final week of teaching, Term 2 (40%); a reaction paper of 1,000 words (10%).

Suggested reading

The reading list for this course will be made available from the convenor at the beginning of the course.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules