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Unit information: Anthropology of Islam in 2017/18

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Unit name Anthropology of Islam
Unit code ARCH20046
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. HadziMuhamedovic
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This course critically explores a range of anthropological approaches to Islam and Muslim societies. Rather than being an introduction to religious doctrines or a comparative survey of historical and contemporary Muslim beliefs and practices, it offers a glimpse into the most prominent theoretical debates and ethnographic analyses of diverse Muslim lifeworlds. It starts by considering what an anthropology of Islam may look like - which ethical, political, scalar, epistemological, ontological and other obstacles it encounters.

Particular attention is given to Islam and Muslim societies as they intersect with the questions of: image and representation; gender, sexuality and the body (including gender and sexual variance, ritual and violence); syncretism, proximity and mixture; imperialism, colonialism and power; saints, shrines and pilgrimage; modernity, secularism, nationalism and transnationalism; conflict and displacement; consumption and labour; spatiality and temporality, etc. In doing this, the course introduces students to the main theoretical and methodological debates within the anthropology of Islam regarding how best to study Muslim lifeworlds. These comprehensive discussions are considered alongside visual work, music and poetry.

The aim of this course is twofold. Firstly, it aims to familiarise students with the anthropological literature on the subject of “Islam” – this includes both seminal ethnographies of Muslim life in different settings, and classic and contemporary debates within the discipline about “Islam” as object of anthropological enquiry. The course’s second, and parallel, aim is to develop critical thinking on the anthropological study of Islam and Muslim lives: how should Islam be studied ethnographically? How should we theorise the complexity and diversity of Muslim life? How should we think of Islam in relation to other “grand schemes” in people’s lives – from regional history, to economic structures, to individual aspirations? And what are the contemporary ethical responsibilities and political implications of singling out Islam as an object of study?

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of the unit, a succesful student will be able to:

1) Describe the main features of Islamic societies from the anthropological point of view by reference to specific ethnographic material.

2) Discuss the works of leading theorists in the study of Islamic societies, and place them in their intellectual and historical context.

3) Demonstrate a knowledge of social change in Islamic societies, including the importance of the colonial encounter, nationalism and modernisation.

4) Analyse the importance of migration from Islamic societies from a cultural, religious and economic point of view.

5) Appraise the interaction between Islamic and non-Islamic societies, including an appreciation of how social spaces have been shared.

6) Synthesise the impact of globalisation and the internet on changing patterns of social life within Islam and amongst diaspora communities.

Teaching details

22 lecture/seminar hours and 1 individual tutorial

Assessment Details

One essay of 2,500 words (50%) - ILOs 1-6. One examination (50%) - ILOs 1-6.

Reading and References

Mahmood, Saba. 2005. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1996[1986]. Veiled Sentiments: Honour and Poetry in a Bedouin Society. Cairo: American University of Cairo Press.

Schielke, Samuli, and Liza Debevec, eds. 2012. Ordinary Lives and Grand Schemes: An Anthropology of Everyday Religion. Oxford: Berghahn.

Varzi, Rozanne. 2006. Warring Souls: Youth, Media and Martyrdom in Post-Revolutionary Iran. Durham: Duke University Press.

Marranci, Gabriele. 2008. The Anthropology of Islam. Oxford: Berg.

Varisco, Daniel M. 2005. Islam Obscured: The Rhetoric of Anthropological Representation. Palgrave Macmillan.