SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Approaches in Islamic Intellectual History

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 1

The main objective of this module is to introduce students to various spheres of intellectual and religious activity in the Islamic world, with a focus on the pre-modern period, and to provide them with a methodological and conceptual toolkit for advanced study in the field. The module comprises focused thematic explorations in a range of disciplines, such as philosophy, theology, legal theory, political thought and medieval historiography, although students are not expected to have prior knowledge in any of these subjects. Special attention will be given to key concepts, genres, practices and institutions of scholarship in the pre-modern Islamic world, as well as to questions of method and interpretation that have arisen in modern secondary literature. Competing approaches and key recent debates in the field will be introduced. Students are not required to know a language other than English, although they will have the option of using primary sources in their original language for the essay should they wish to do so.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

LO1.    be equipped with the intellectual and research tools, including critical-historical thinking, to conduct research in the religious and intellectual history of the Islamic world;

LO2.    have a critical understanding of different methodologies and approaches in the field;

LO3.    be able to question interpretations, however authoritative, and reassess evidence.

LO4.    have knowledge of key concepts and features of scholarly traditions in the pre-modern Islamic world;

LO5.    be able to identify appropriate research questions and relevant source materials;

LO6.    be able to design and execute a long essay;

LO7.    develop writing and communication skills.


2 hours of lectures, per week. Ten weeks total for this module.

Scope and syllabus

1.     Approaches to the study of philosophy and theology in the Islamic world, from the 19th to the 21st century.

2.     Strands of political thought.

3.     Competing soteriologies.

4.     Philosophy and theology in the post-classical period.

5.     Legal theory.

6.     Scholarly genres.

7.     Educational practices and scholarly networks.

Method of assessment

One essay of 3,500 words total (100% of total mark); due first week of Term 2.

Suggested reading

Core Reading:

Van Ess, J. Theology and society in the second and third centuries of the Hijra. Vols 1-4. Leiden: Brill, 2017-.


Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah: an introduction to history. Translated by F. Rosenthal. Several editions.


Gutas, D. ‘The Study of Arabic Philosophy in the Twentieth Century: An Essay on the Historiography of Arabic Philosophy’. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 29.1 (2002): 5-25.

Suggested Reading:

The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition. Leiden: Brill.


The Encyclopaedia of Islam Three. Leiden: Brill.


The Princeton encyclopedia of Islamic political thought (online).


Adamson, P., and R. Taylor (eds). The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.


Adang, C. et al. (eds). Ibn Ḥazm of Cordoba: the life and works of a controversial thinker. Leiden: Brill, 2013.


Kukkonen, T. Ibn Tufayl. Oxford: Oneworld, 2014.


Makdisi, G. The rise of colleges: institutions of learning in Islam and the West. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1981.


El-Rouayheb, K., and S. Schmidtke (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.


Schmidtke, S. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.


Taylor, R., and L. López-Farjeat (eds.). The Routledge Companion to Islamic Philosophy. London and New York: Routledge, 2016.


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