SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Approaches to Comparative Political Thought

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Term 1

The course has been designed as a compulsory core half unit in the new Masters programme on Comparative Political Thought. With its focus on approaches to the study of political thought in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, the course is relevant for students in regionally defined MSc programmes in the Politics department, and to those enrolled in area studies degrees based in other departments. At the same time, it is distinct from other courses in the area studies degrees in not being confined to a single geographical region, and in its focus on the study of political thought.

The course seeks to introduce the main approaches and themes in the emerging sub-field of comparative political thought, and to elaborate the conceptual approach to comparison of political thinking across regions and traditions that the course will develop. Part I on Approaches considers attempts to define the field, focussing on how ‘comparison’ and ‘thought’ are understood in existing literature and in the proposed approach to comparative political thought. Part II of the course introduces key themes that arise in discussions of political thinking in Asia, Africa and the Middle East: orientalism, Eurocentrism, modernity, historical contextualization, cultural incommensurability, and translation. Part III focusses on discussions of the ‘political’ in a range of traditions and practices in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Here, the questions of method discussed in preceding weeks will be elaborated through substantive comparative readings of notions of the boundaries of the political, of the state and authority, of individual and community.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate:

  • Knowledge of the main distinct approaches in comparative political thought, including debates over the nature of ‘comparison and ‘thought’;
  • Understanding of key philosophical, historical, political and linguistic issues that arise in the study of non-Western political thought;
  • Appreciation of key concepts of the political, the state, individual and community, from the standpoint of political thinking in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
  • Ability to compare political ideas across cultural and historical lines, and to identify and evaluate similarities and differences.
  • Ability to formulate a research question and write a research paper on a chosen topic.


Weekly: One combined lecture/seminar, over ten weeks.

Scope and syllabus

Part I Approaches
1. Introduction: What is Comparative Political Thought?
2. ‘Comparison’ in comparative political thought
3. ‘Thought’ in comparative political thought

Part II Key Themes
4. Orientalism and Eurocentrism
5. Modernity and historical contextualization
6. Translation
7. Cultural incommensurability

Part III Critical Readings: The  concept of the ‘political’ in comparative frames
8. Boundaries of the political
9. State and authority
10. Individual and community

Method of assessment

The course will be assessed on the basis of two essays: Essay 1 (2000 words) contributes 30% of the mark for this course; Essay 2 (5000 words) contributes 70% of the overall mark for this course.

The course attempts to hone skills of research, analysis, and oral and written presentation in relation to issues of comparative political thought. These objectives are best met by giving students the opportunity to do in-depth research on a question of their choice – hence the emphasis on the longer research paper as the primary method of evaluation. There will be a strong emphasis on comparison—meaning that even if students seek to specialize in particular traditions of thought, they will be strongly encouraged to compare these with other relevant bodies of political thought.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules