SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

MSc Comparative Political Thought (2019 entry)

  • Q&A
  • Structure
  • Teaching and Learning


The MSc in Comparative Political Thought builds on SOAS’s wealth of regional expertise to offer a new approach to cross-regional comparison of political thinking. It reframes the study of political thought in Africa, Asia and the Middle East as a study of political ideas and political practices.

The programme introduces students to the key approaches, debates, and questions in the emerging sub-discipline of comparative political thought. Covering a range of thinkers, traditions and texts, in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, it provides learning opportunities for students to compare ideas and values across regions and historical periods.

The MSc in Comparative Political Thought will enable graduate students to undertake further advanced study and research in political thought, as well as enhance skills suitable for employment in multicultural and international professional contexts.

Start of programme: September 2013

Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time

Who is this programme for?:

The programme is designed for graduate students who wish to learn about the diverse strands of political thinking in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and the different approaches to comparison in political thought. It is highly relevant to students who wish to embark on doctoral studies in the area of non-Western political thought. It is also relevant for practitioners working in or intending to work in governments, international organizations, think tanks and advocacy groups who wish to acquire deeper knowledge of ideas and values that inform political practices in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Entry requirements

  • Candidates should have a good undergraduate honours degree in politics, history, anthropology, area studies, or philosophy (UK 2:1 or better)

Featured events

One calendar year (full-time); Two or three years (part-time, daytime only)



Introducing the MSc Comparative Political Thought  
Matthew Nelson

Dr. Matthew Nelson, Reader in Politics explains why the MSc Comparative Political Thought is particularly relevant to the world we live in today.

What does the programme involve?

This is a cutting-edge programme that pushes the boundaries of contemporary political theory. In this programme, we build on SOAS’s unrivalled area-studies expertise to take a much broader view of ‘political thinking’ beyond the canonised texts of Western political philosophy. In particular, we consider a much wider range of source material for the study of political ideas (manifestos, grassroots thinking, art, protest, and so on).  And, of course, at SOAS, we do this with special reference to the most powerful political ideas of the Middle East, Africa, Asia (Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia).

Along the way, we compare Western and non-Western ideas while, at the same time, considering comparisons that do not consider Western political concepts at all.  We believe our approach to the field of political theory rejuvenates the field and makes it more relevant to the world we live in today.

What kind of students will the programme appeal to?

This programme typically appeals to those who see a link between their prior work in political theory and patterns of thinking in non-Western contexts. It is particularly attractive to students who ask questions about how today’s political ideas around the world underpin political action: How do ideas, ideologies, concepts, and patterns of political criticism travel from one country or region to another? How do different cultural contexts ‘share’ political ideas (or not)—for example, ideas about justice, equality, rebellion, or corruption?

Typically, the students who join this programme understand that “ideas can change the world”; and they want to understand how this process occurs.

What is special about the programme at SOAS?

SOAS itself is unique—our global student body, multi-disciplinary approach, critical and questioning attitude moves well beyond the focus on basic ‘skills training’ found in so many other programmes.

With reference to political theory, we do not ignore the Western canon that figures so prominently (almost exclusively) in other programmes. Instead, we engage the Western canon, build on it, and critically examine it, situating it in a fresh approach to political theory that does not automatically assume its primacy. SOAS is uniquely positioned to illuminate patterns of political thinking in Saudi Arabia, China, Indonesia, Nigeria, and India (to name a tiny cross-section of the countries that interest our students). No other programme in political theory is positioned to access the study of these enormously diverse ideas as well as SOAS.

Students on the MSc Comparative Political Thought programme are trained to understand and engage the ideas that animate politics in most of the world.

Can you recommend a good book to read on Comparative Political Thought?

There are so many! To begin, one might consider a recent edited volume by Professor Michael Freedon—for many years a Professor of Political Theory at Oxford and now a Research Associate at SOAS working closely with our Comparative Political Thought cluster:

Michael Freeden and Andrew Vincent, eds., Comparative Political Thought: Theorizing Practices (Routledge, 2013)

What do students do after graduating?

Many of the students who complete our MSc in Comparative Political Thought plan to carry on with advanced research—often in a Political Theory PhD programme. A growing number, however, also pursue careers requiring high-level skills in cross-cultural engagement and communication: in government, diplomacy, international advocacy, activism, and the media.  Journalists, political leaders, and those engaged in countless private and public-sector roles (corporate communications, intelligence, education, and international trade) understand that translating ideas, concepts, and values across cultural and political contexts is essential. Our graduates put this skill into practice.



Core Modules
Module Code Credits Term
Approaches to Comparative Political Thought 15PPOH028 15 Term 2
Comparative International Political Thought 15PPOH021 15 Credits

Choose a minimum of 30 credits from List B


Choose a maximum of 60 credits from List C

List B
Module Code Credits Term
Islamic/Democratic Political Thought 15PPOH046 15 Term 1
Islam and political ideologies 15PPOH007 15 Term 2
Political violence 15PPOH009 15 Term 1
Violence, justice and the politics of memory 15PPOH019 15 Term 1
Queer Politics in Asia, Africa and the Middle East 15PGNH007 15 Term 2
African Political Thought 15PPOH029 15 Term 1
Political Thought on the Just Rebellion 15PPOH030 15 Term 1
The Indian Ocean in World Politics 15PPOH032
Political Theory, Race and Empire 15PPOH045 15 Term 1
State Violence: Theories of the Leviathan and Beyond 15PPOH034 15 Term 2
List C
Module Code Credits Term
Government And Politics In Africa 15PPOC205 30
State And Society In The Chinese Political Process 15PPOC012 30 Credits
Taiwan's Politics and Cross-Strait Relations 15PPOC252 30 Credits
Northeast Asian Politics and Society: Japan, Korea and Taiwan 15PPOC253 30 Credits
State and Society in Central Asia and the Caucasus 15PPOH022 15 Term 1
Political society in the Middle East 15PPOH008 15 Term 2
State and transformation in the Middle East 15PPOH011 15 Term 1
List D: Languages
Module Code Credits Term
Human Rights and Islamic Law 15PLAC150 30 Full Year
Gender and Empire in Early Modern China 15PHIH024 15 Term 2
Genders and Sexualities in South East Asian Film 15PSEH011 15 Term 2
Chinese 1 A (PG) 15PCHH031 15 Term 1
Chinese 1 B (PG) 15PCHH032 15 Term 2
Elementary Hebrew (PG) 15PNMC392 30 Full Year
Hindi Language 1 A (PG) 15PSAH022 15 Term 1
Hindi Language 1 B (PG) 15PSAH023 15 Term 2
Japanese 1 A (PG) 15PJKH035 15 Term 1
Japanese 1 B (PG) 15PJKH036 15 Term 2


Programme Specification

Important notice

The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session. If you are a current student you can find structure information on the previous year link at the top of the page or through your Department. Please read the important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.

Teaching and Learning

Teaching & Learning

The MSc in Comparative Political Thought has two core 15 Credit modules that all students registered for the degree will undertake. Approaches to Comparative Political Thought is taken in Term 1, and Comparative International Political Thought in Term 2. Students then choose modules equivalent to 30 Credits from a list of optional modules (outlined below), and complete a dissertation based on independent study and research (equivalent to a further module).

Students must take 180 credits comprised of 120 taught credits (including core and option modules) and a 60 credit dissertation.

  1. Familiarity with the main approaches in the emerging sub-field of comparative political thought, including different understandings of ‘comparison’ and ‘thought’;
  2. Advanced understanding of some of the philosophical, historical, political and linguistic issues that arise in the study of non-Western political thought;
  3. In-depth knowledge of some key political concepts (eg. state, authority, individual, community), as understood by political thinkers in Asia, Africa and the Middle East;
  4. An understanding of political thought not simply as articulated by elite intellectuals, but also as ideas in action, manifested in political practices at different levels of society.
Intellectual (thinking) skills
  1. To analyse and evaluate competing approaches to comparative political thought;
  2. To conceptualise the main issues and problems that arise in the comparative study of political thought;
  3. To develop in-depth understanding of aspects of non-Western political thought;
  4. To develop intellectual initiative and skills to compare political ideas across cultural and historical boundaries, identifying and evaluating similarities and differences;
  5. To formulate research questions and hypotheses.
Subject-based practical skills
  1. To identify, analyse and evaluate core arguments in theoretical materials from a variety of sources;
  2. To develop skills to work creatively and flexibly across different disciplines and regional traditions;
  3. To organise information in a lucid, coherent, concise, and clear form in written as well as oral presentations;
  4. To develop initiative and capacity to work independently on research questions and to adjust hypotheses and approach in the light of work undertaken for the dissertation.
Transferable skills
  1. To retrieve, select, digest and analyse complex information from a variety of sources.
  2. To structure and communicate ideas effectively both orally and in writing.
  3. To work effectively in and contribute to meetings, by presenting, listening to and discussing ideas introduced during meetings.
  4. To manage time effectively.

Find out more