SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Political Thought on the Just Rebellion

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 1

The last few years have seen people rise up in many parts of the world and, in so doing, they follow long traditions of revolt and resistance, and justify the impulse to rebel with both political reform programmes and deep ethical and philosophical, not to mention religious, reasonings. This module considers those reasonings and looks at work on the just rebellion from different parts of the world, and not just from Western sources.

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Political Thought on the Just Rebellion - Stephen Chan

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, a student should be able to demonstrate…

  • A nuanced understanding of the debate between just rebellion and just authority, both in the Augustinian/Thomist debate and as expressed in the political thought of selected other cultures.
  • A broad comprehension of theoretical approaches to rebellion and revolution, both in the Western literature and in selected other literatures, and as expressed in practice by rebel movements.
  • An appreciation of rationalistic, problem-solving approaches to rebellion and dealing with rebellion, and an appreciation of ‘irrational’, morally intuitive and spiritual approaches to rebellion.
  • An appreciation of approaches to pacific rebellion, the moral steps towards violent rebellion, and the norm of chivalry within violent rebellion.
  • An appreciation of militarised rebellion and the ‘command rebellion’.
  • A command of major contemporary literature on rebellion against world systems and global hegemonies.


  • Two-hour seminar per week

Scope and syllabus

The module has the general objective of providing a comparative and multicultural approach to the political philosophies, theories, norms and practices of rebellion, both in various historical national contexts and in a contemporary global context.


  • The Augustinian just war formulations applied to rebellion, via Anthony Kenny, and contrasted with the thought of Thomas Aquinas. The limits of ‘just authority’ as depicted poetically by John Milton and artistically by William Blake. The rebel as romantic anti-hero against absolutism.
  • The reductionism of problem-solving approaches and the limits of relative deprivation in the work of Ted Gurr. Towards the rebellion of the luminous: liberation theology in Latin America and Africa.
  • Ali Shari’ati and revolution in Iran; Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian mandates for rebellion.
  • Rebellion as revolution in modernity: the English, French, US, Soviet and Chinese revolutions.
  • Rebellion as self-liberation in the face of the colonising state: the Maori struggles in New Zealand and the ideologies of the decolonisation struggle in Africa.
  • Pacific rebellion and resistance (Ghandi and Kenneth Kaunda), and magical rebellion (Chinese Boxers, Alice Lakwena and Joseph Kony).
  • The man on horseback, the men in tanks at dawn: the coup as militarised rebellion in Latin America and Africa. The rationales of uniformed governments of 20th century Europe in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey.
  • From the freedom of pedagogy (Illich and Freire) to the freedom of values: street fighting in 1968, from Tienanmen to Tahrir Squares; rebellion and modern technologies.
  • The jihad, the empire, and neo-liberalism.
  • Towards a modern theory of rebellion.

Method of assessment

One assignment of 5000 words worth 100% of the total mark. 

Suggested reading

Amin, Samir, Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism?, Cape Town: Pambazuka, 2011.
Amin, Samir, Eurocentrism, Cape Town: Pambazuka, 2011.
Amin, Samir, Global History: A View from the South, Cape Town: Pambazuka, 2011.
Banana, Canaan, The Gospel According to the Ghetto, Gweru: Mambo Press, 1980.
Binney, Judith, Redemption Songs: A Life of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1995.
Brinton, Crane, The Anatomy of Revolution, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1938.
Bonpane, Blase, Guerrillas of Peace: Liberation Theology and the Central American Revolution, Boston: South End, 1987.
Carr, E.H., A History of Soviet Russia, London: Macmillan (14 volumes) 1950-1982.
Chan, Stephen & Andrew J Williams (eds.), Renegade States: The evolution of revolutionary foreign policy, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994.
Chan, Stephen, Kaunda and Southern Africa: Image and Reality in Foreign Policy, London: IB Tauris, 1992.
Chan, Stephen, Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003.
Chan, Stephen, Grasping Africa, London: IB Tauris, 2007.
Chan, Stephen, Out of Evil, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.
Chan, Stephen, The End of Certainty, London: Zed, 2009.
Finer, Samuel, The Man on Horseback, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976.
Freire, Paolo, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Seabury, 1970.
Goldstone, Jack A (ed.), Revolutions of the Twentieth Century, Boulder: Westview, 1991.
Gurr, Ted R, Why Men Rebel, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970.
Halliday, Fred, Rethinking International Relations, Houndmills: Macmillan, 1994.
Halman, Talut S, Rapture and Revolution, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2007.
Higgins, Nicholas P., Understanding the Chiapas Rebellion, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.
Illich, Ivan, DEschooling Society, London: Marion Boyars, 1995.
Johnson, Calmers, Revolutionary Change, Boston: Little Brown, 1970.
Katz, Ruth Cecily, Arjuna in the Mahabharata, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.
Kenny, Anthony, What I Believe, London: Continuum, 2006.
Negri, Antonio & Michael Hardt, Empire, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.
Rahnema, Ali, An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shari’ati, London: IB Tauris, 2000.
Sharp, Andrew, Justice and the Maori, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Skocpol, Theda, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Taylor, Stan, Social Science and Revolutions, New York: St Martins, 1984.
Tilly, Charles, ‘Does Modernisation Breed Revolution?’, Comparative Politics, 5:3, 1973.  
Schama, Simon, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, New York: Viking, 1989.
Sen, Amartya, Identity & Violence, London: Penguin, 2006.
Thompson, EP, Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law, New York: New Press, 1993.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules