SOAS University of London

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

The Middle East in Ten Issues

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

For better or for worse, study of the Middle East has never been short of contested issues. This course provides the opportunity to focus on major historical and contemporary issues which rightly or wrongly have dominated public imagination. It examines such issues as the role and meaning of Islam in the Middle East, ‘Islamic’ terrorism, Islamophobia, ‘sectarian’ and ‘ethnic’ violence, the political language of Islam and democracy, veiling and women’s rights, sexuality, all of them subjects on which whole courses can be found at SOAS and elsewhere. This team-taught survey module builds on the expertise of SOAS’s academic community and introduces students to the developments in the field and the merits of different approaches. At the same time the module introduces students to a number of key terms and concepts (for example, the validity of Area Studies of the Middle East, the modern intolerance of ambiguity, the obsession with ‘true Islam’ and the ‘Islamization’ of everything to do with Middle East and Islamic cultures), which should be useful to MA Middle East Studies students for their dissertations, whatever their focus.

This module is available as an open option in programmes that permit them.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module, a student will be able to:

  • evaluate material from a variety of geographical, theoretical, and intellectual positions on historical, political and social aspects, relevant to the Middle East;
  • demonstrate their knowledge of a range of contemporary and historical controversies across the Middle East;
  • communicate the results of their own research by selecting appropriate methodological approaches in a persuasive and accessible manner;
  • critically analyse historical and contemporary phenomena about or connected to the Middle East.


This module consists of a 1-hour lecture and 1-hour seminar weekly over 10 weeks.

Scope and syllabus

Topics for this module may include, but are not limited to:

  1. Tolerance of ambiguity in Islam versus the (over-) Islamization of all aspects of  Middle East and Islamic cultures;
  2. Have Middle East Studies gone native?: Take the Rest and forget the West;
  3. Islamic terrorism, really?;
  4. The missionary position: Missionary universities in the Middle East (AUB, Robert College, AUC) and taking the joy of sex out of the text;
  5. Still talking about the veil?;
  6. Was Maimonides an Islamic philosopher? What does that have to do with Islamic art?;
  7. What is wrong about ‘What is wrong with the Middle East’?
  8. When is a language not just a language?: ˁArabiyya;
  9. Dreams or nightmares of empires: Pax (neo) Ottomanica;
  10. Middle East autocrats: Same as everywhere?;
  11. Arab Spring or Winter?: Revolution, Democracy, Human Rights;
  12. Utopia or Dystopia?: Zionism and the state of Israel;
  13. ‘What have we done to deserve this?’: The Iranian Revolution;
  14. Whose baklava is it anyway?: Food diplomacy wars.

Method of assessment

  • AS1: Response Paper (800 words), due Friday, Week 7 of the term in which the module is taught (30%);
  • AS2: Essay (2,000 words), due Friday, Week 1 of the term after which the module is taught (70%).

Suggested reading

  • Ahmed, Shahab, 2015. What is Islam? The importance of Being Islamic. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
  • Brookshaw, D. P., ed., 2012. Ruse and Wit. The Humorous in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish Narrative. Cambridge, MA. ,Harvard University Press.
  • Harik, Iliya, “Democracy, ‘Arab Exceptionalism,’ and Social Science,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 60, No. 4, Autumn 2006: 664-684
  • Ichijo, Atsuko, Venetia Johannes, and Ronald Ranta. 2019. The Emergence of National Food: The Dynamics of Food and Nationalism. London : Bloomsbury Academic,.
  • Khouri, Rami, 2011.  ‘Drop the Orientalist Term “Arab Spring”.’ The Daily Star, 17 August 2011.
  • Lalami, Laila, 2006. “The Missionary Position.” The Nation (19 June 2006)
  • Lockman, Z. Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
  • Lockman, Z. Field Notes: The Making of Middle East Studies in the United States (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016)
  • Lust, Ellen, “Missing the Third Wave: Islam, Institutions, and Democracy in the Middle East,” Studies in Comparative International Development, Vol. 46, Issue 2, June 2011: 163-190.
  • Mitchell, T. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), pp.273-303.
  • Nonneman, Gerd. “Rentiers and Autocrats, Monarchs and Democrats, State and Society: the Middle East Between Globalization, Human ‘Agency’, and Europe,” International Affairs, Vol. 77, Issue 1. 2001: 141–162.
  • Pappé, Ilan. 2014. The Modern Middle East : A Social and Cultural History. Third edition. Abingdon, Oxon : Routledge.
  • Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam. 2013. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. Routledge.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules