SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Approaches to Comparative Political Thought

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

The module 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 module 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 modules 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 module 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 module 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 module 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 focuses 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 module, 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.


  • Two-hour seminar per week

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
  1. Orientalism and Eurocentrism
  2. Modernity and historical contextualization
  3. Translation
  4. Cultural incommensurability
Part III Critical Readings: The  concept of the ‘political’ in comparative frames
  1. Boundaries of the political
  2. State and authority
  3. Individual and community

Method of assessment

The module will be assessed on the basis of three essays: Essay 1 (750 words) contributes 15% of the mark; Essay 2 (1,000 words) contributes 25% of the mark; Essay 3 (3,000 words) contributes 60% of the mark.

The module 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