The two-year MA in Muslim Cultures comprises the following elements:

  • core courses and electives;
  • a field-based, language immersion programme;
  • co-curricular activities including excursions within and outside London;
  • a communications and organisational skills workshop;
  • fieldwork, which contributes to students' 20,000 word dissertation.

The academic year comprises three terms of twelve weeks each, (including a reading and an examination week). In addition, the MA Programme includes a language immersion course outside the UK in the first year and fieldwork for the dissertation in the second year.

During the two-year MA Programme, students must complete a total of 25 courses, consisting of 16 core courses, 6 core language courses and 3 electives. The elective courses on offer will vary from year to year. Courses are grouped into the following five components.

  • Introduction to the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Muslim Heritages as Part of World Cultures
  • Contemporary Muslim Contexts
  • Methodologies
  • Languages

Introduction to the Humanities and Social Sciences

Courses introduce the students to theories of historiography, epistemology, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and philosophy of language that are relevant for an understanding of current debates in the humanities and social sciences. Emphasis will be laid on theories that enable students to approach themes of other components, particularly those on issues relevant to past and present Muslim cultures, in an independent, critical and creative manner.

Core Courses

Muslim Heritages as Part of World Cultures

Courses will introduce students to the idea that Muslim heritages are an integral part of world cultures and their histories. Selected aspects of world cultures that are intimately related to the formation of Muslim religious thought and practices, Muslim scholarship and Muslim political discourses and experiences will be studied.

Core Courses Elective Courses

porary Muslim Contexts

Courses introduce students to major areas of relevance to present Muslim cultures. The choice of courses is guided by an attempt to address substantial domains of social, cultural, political and economic studies.

Core Courses Elective Courses


Methodology courses are an integral part of the MA Programme and provide students with important research skills in order that they may understand and learn methods of analysing texts, written or otherwise (i.e. painting, jewellery, artifacts, architecture, music, etc), producing and interpreting empirical data as well as evaluating and choosing between alternative academic approaches.

Core Courses


This compulsory component seeks to familiarise students with Arabic or, in the case of Arabic-speaking students, another language spoken by Muslims (Persian or Turkish). In the future, the Institute hopes to expand the range of languages offered to include Malay, Swahili and Urdu. This emphasis on languages will enable students to familiarise themselves with foundational sources such as the Qur'an, collections of hadith and works on exegesis, theology, law, philosophy and science. It is also a window to other material related to Muslim cultures in various parts of the world.

  • Classical Arabic I-III or Persian/Turkish I-III
  • Classical Arabic IV-VI or Persian/Turkish IV-VI

Language Immersion Programme

During the summer term of their first year, students travel to a relevant country to undertake a compulsory four-week intensive language course and complete a language-based assignment.

This important feature of the MA Programme exposes students to cultures, communities and ways of life different from their own. It allows students to experience language in its social and lived dimensions while furthering their understanding of diversity and pluralism. 

For the 2007 Language Immersion Programme and 2008 Language Immersion Programme, students learning Arabic went to Tunisia and the students learning Persian went to Iran.

Communications and Organisational Skills Workshop

The primary objective of this training is to start a process of integrating students' learning in the development of leadership skills congruent with today's fast paced, multi-cultural organisational requirements. The training provides practical leadership skills for communicating, influencing and motivating across cultures, managing change and deepening individual impact within society. It builds on self awareness, awareness and openness to others' points of view and the ability to adapt communication and leadership styles across cultural, religious and ethnic differences. The course links theoretical knowledge with practical application, allowing time for practice and feedback.

Learn more about the 2007 Communication and Leadership Programme​.

Dissertation and Fieldwork

During the second summer of the MA Programme students undertake an optional four-week field project. Students' field projects will focus on an area of their interest and constitute the research component of their dissertation. Faculty support and input is available for students to develop their ideas.

The total length of the dissertation is 20,000 words maximum including table of contents and bibliography/references but excluding the appendices. The dissertation is worth 15 credits and students must achive a passing mark in order to graduate. Dissertations are marked by two internal markers and an external examiner. 

For more information about writing the dissertation, please refers to General Guidelines for PhD and Master's Theses/Dissertation at AKU and the Guide for Writing a Master's Dissertation at AKU-ISMC.

Courses Descriptions

Introduction to the Humanities and Social Sciences
This course introduces students to the social sciences and humanities, focusing particularly on the perspectives of history, social anthropology/sociology, gender and philosophy. It encourages a critical and historical scrutiny of the major theories and arguments that are used within these disciplines. The course aims to foster a critical application of theories to a selection of key historical conjunctures, texts and cultural practices in Muslim contexts. This course provides the academic tools to develop arguments within the social sciences, to critically analyse texts and to question the most commonly held assumptions about ourselves and the world. It aims to cultivate a critical sensibility, enabling students to become competent and responsible researchers in the study of Muslim cultures and societies.

Writing in the Humanities
This course helps develop an understanding of the scholarly writing process in the humanities; along with building awareness of academic writing convention and style. Through an analysis of the rhetorical organisation of an academic essay, students will acquire an awareness of the meaning of critical discourse as required in a university essay or dissertation. They will be required to analyse and practise producing key structural and functional components of an academic essay. Students will learn to appreciate the idea of the academic voice and participants in texts, and review and practise integrating sources using the techniques of quoting, paraphrasing and summarising. Class-time will also be used to examine cohesion and coherence in writing, as well as micro features of grammar, syntax and academic style.

Late Antiquity
This course treats political and cultural developments of the Near East from roughly the second to the eighth centuries CE. Among the topics to be covered: periodization and world history; empires and client states; religions - doctrine, practice, and their social contexts; regional cultures and the rise of literary expressions in Syriac, Armenian, and Coptic; and both quotidian and monumental examples of material culture. The course will also introduce Arabia in Late Antiquity, with particular attention to its relationship to the wider Near East.

Philosophy of Language: Text, Meaning and Interpretation
This course allows students to explore some major questions in the philosophy of language, specifically with respect to the understanding and interpretation of cultural artefacts in the human sciences. Accordingly, it focuses on how philosophical considerations of language inform the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, psychology, history, and political theory. The course is divided into two parts. In the first five weeks, the focus will be on general philosophical questions concerning the nature of language, texts, meaning and interpretation, that have been raised in the ‘analytic’ philosophical tradition. The second part of the course will consider how other modern philosophers have sought to address these questions. In some respects the division of the course mirrors a supposed division within philosophy more generally – that between the analytic (or Anglo-Saxon) tradition on the one-hand, and ‘Continental philosophy’ on the other. But as the course progresses students will see that this division is, to a large extent, artificial. The questions raised in both traditions concerning problems of textual meaning and interpretation, and many of the answers they provide, overlap to a very large degree and illuminate our understanding of the human sciences.

The Formation of Muslim Thought: Theology and Law
This course examines the evolution of intellectual life from the beginning of the fourth century to the tenth century Hijra. It poses for critical exploration two main questions: a) How has Muslim theology emerged and then developed into a variety of schools, providing modes of thinking?; and b) How did Muslim law split into several schools and what role did each school play in its context? At the end of the course, students are requested to reflect on the relationship between theology and law, theology, law and ethics and theology and law as two processes in interpreting Qur'an and Hadith.

Muslim Cultures in the 14th to18th Centuries 
This course focuses on the political, cultural, and religious history of the period from the 14th to the 18th centuries with an emphasis on art and architecture. Among the topics to be covered: periodisation and world history, major empires and practices of patronage, regional cultures and the rise of new artistic and architectural forms, and the methods by which historians link art and architecture to their historical contexts. Case studies are examined from al-Andalus, North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Iran, and South Asia.

Sacred Across Cultures
This course introduces students to a variety of sacred scriptures, religions and civilisations, examining the notion of sacred scriptures in written and oral form, using the Qur'an, the Bible, and the Vedas as examples. The course examines the evolution of sacred scripture over time and how people reacted to them, as well as, how a given scripture becomes a structured book and final text, and how later works view the history of a given sacred text.

History of the Qur'an in Classical and Contemporary Scholarship
The course addresses key questions related to the history of the Qur'anic text. Topics include a brief introduction to Arabian creeds, the Meccan milieu and the personality of Muhammad, the problematic of revelation and historical interaction, the processes of writing down the sacred oral word, issues of collection and order in the Qur'an, the Qur'an as a constructed text, and the history of the Qur'an in later writings by contemporary scholars. Through these topics, students will be exposed to the issues surrounding the major political and societal developments that shaped Muslim perceptions of the Qur'anic text.

Renaissance, Enlightenment and the Advent of Modernity
This course considers three consecutive phases of European history, examining political, economic, social, commercial, military and intellectual history. It discusses recent major shifts in academic approaches to these different kinds of history and questions their impact for the study of Muslim cultures within Europe and outside its borders. The course analyses the importance that particular historical discourses have had, and continue to have, for the formation of European identity and the definition of the 'Other'. It challenges contemporary historiography of Europe in these three periods by questioning the definition of what constituted Europe and who was a European power, and promotes a new approach to the history of Muslims in Europe and Muslim relationships with Europe.

Muslim Responses to Modernity and Post-modern Theories
This course seeks to introduce students to the ideas of modernity, and post-modernity set within their historical contexts. The course will build upon the ideas examined in a previous course, Renaissance, Enlightenment and the Advent of Modernity. Through major works by Muslim intellectuals and activists, the course examines key trends with regard to the question of modernisation in Muslim societies. It aims to give students a grounding in the theories and processes of global modernity and modernism, scan aspects of the interplay between global modernity, Muslim countries, and Islamic thought and culture, and finally, to consider the trajectories taken by Muslim countries under conditions of post-modernity. This course examines both overarching themes and selected case studies.

Gender, Nation and Muslim Identities
This course explores how gender relations shape, and are shaped, by political, economic and social movements and national projects. It critically examines a range of gender-neutral theories, many of which have been guiding modernising projects and discourses. The course considers entanglements of colonial, national and transnational projects and movements at different historical moments which shape and coerce what is possible and acceptable for Muslim men and women. Particular case studies focusing on the Middle East, North Africa, and Muslims cultures in the West will demonstrate the unintended and paradoxical consequences of state-led approaches to gender roles and relations. The course will also explore specific developmental projects that women and men have made in constructing their own gender identities in light of the continued usage of their bodies as sites from which religious identity and other identity markers are being displayed.

Development Challenges in Muslim Context
This course explores the issue of poverty and development by drawing from the global evidence and specific case studies of Muslim and non-Muslim countries. It frames this investigation within the context of globalisation and in particular the emergence of neoliberalism. It looks at the policy shift from states (and governments) to markets (and the private sector) as the main agent of development, and the re-conceptualisation of development from raising national incomes (as part of the modernisation discourse) to a focus on poverty alleviation. The course examines key conceptual issues and what we mean by poverty and development in order to then assess the effectiveness of anti-poverty strategies that have focussed on promoting smallholder agriculture, microcredit, flexible labour markets, migration, and trade liberalisation. The course concludes by looking at what the process of development has entailed historically and the relationship between economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction.

Religion, Law and Society in Muslim Contexts
Contrary to the expectations outlined in social science theories, particularly in theories of secularisation and modernisation, not only has religion not receded from the public sphere in many societies, but rather, has reasserted itself, even in advanced secular societies. This is leading to an interesting debate about future interactions between religion, law and society; especially across Muslim contexts. This course addresses these debates by initially examining the historical development of Muslim legal traditions, and the particular ways in which religion, law and society have interacted in this context. In addition, by considering issues generically as well as comparatively (with some examination of other legal orders), the course will raise questions about the repercussions and future directions that stem from the way that religion, law and society have interacted in Muslim history. In light of this, the course will discuss the relationship between state, civil society, religious and legal institutions. Questions of the compatibility of Muslim traditions to the theory and practice of democracy, human rights and civil society and rule of law will be critically approached to bring out the underlying assumptions about religion and secular world-views.

Muslim Reformers in India in the 18th and 19th Centuries
This course aims to introduce students to major themes in modern Muslim thought and key works that represent Muslim religious and political discourse in modern South Asia. Implicit in this course is a critique of the tendency to relegate South Asia to the peripheries of the Muslim world. It will be stressed that instead of viewing themselves as mere recipients of Islamic influences, Muslim intellectuals in South Asia believed that they were uniquely placed to shape an equally Islamic response to the decline of prevailing Muslim powers, and that they were more productive in employing print technology to publish tracts on Islam, than Muslims elsewhere. Through the works of figures such as Shah Waliullah, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Shibli Numani, Muhammad Iqbal, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Abu A'la Maududi and Fazl ur Rahman, this course will introduce students to the richness of Muslim religious and political discourse in South Asia. An important part of the course will be devoted to examining intra-Islamic debates over the adaptability of Islam with modern/western political ideas and institutions.

Muslim Reformist Thought in South and South East Asia
Together South and South East Asia have well over 60% of the world’s Muslim population. Encounters with a modernising Europe from the 18th century onwards affected norms, traditions, and institutions in these regions, resulting in short and long term changes, accommodations, resistance and acquiescence. Europeans and Asians became the co-creators of modern material, symbolic and emotional textures of life with accompanying gains and strains. Located within these over-arching transformations, and drawing upon the tools of historical sociology and history of ideas, the course will explore the production and dissemination of contesting Muslim reformist thought in South and South East Asia and its role in search for meaningful role of Islam in modern times. The aim is to create critical and reflexive thought about a range of theological, political and social themes. A consideration of historiographical and analytical trends in scholarship on these themes will be an ongoing concern of the course.

Themes in Muslim Arts and Architecture in the Contemporary Period
The contemporary art scene across Muslim cultures is extremely dynamic, political and diverse. While many traditional art forms remain alive, the shadow of modernity looms large. This course provides students with a survey of a) key historical moments in contemporary history of the arts in Muslim cultures and b) selected art forms in their socio-political contexts. The course examines artistic contacts across Muslim societies and European cultures. Through a focus on genres such as the novel and film, the trajectory of the emergence and development of certain new art forms in Muslim societies will be traced. In this context, significant developments in the theory of aesthetics will also be studied. Given that many Muslim societies experience significant constraints on expressions of dissent, it is often the symbolic language of the arts that serves as the vehicle for critiquing manipulation, exclusion and invisibility as well as expressing the yearning for freedom, justice and equality, including gender equality. Relations between the arts and social realities will be an important exploration in the course. With particular focus on the development of the arts among the younger generations of Muslims, the course will also examine the ways in which the fine arts have become a site for the creative appropriation of tradition and engagement with European modernity.

Research Methodology and Dissertation Planning I
This course seeks to provide students with the appropriate tools to carry out their respective research projects. An introduction to both qualitative and quantitative methods of enquiry along with the basic tools needed to develop and undertake research projects aims to enable students to meet high academic and research standards.

Globalisation, Poverty and Development 
How do we reduce poverty in a globalised world? Is globalisation compatible with development?  To answer these questions it is necessary to be clear about who the poor are, how they sustain their livelihoods, and how this is affected by the process of globalisation. Misconceptions about who the poor are, and the failure to account for the opportunities and structural constraints posed by globalisation, often result in policies that do not target the poor nor fully account for the challenges the poor face. The course critically evaluates some of the popular development strategies centred on fighting corruption and promoting smallholder agriculture, microcredit, flexible labour markets, migration, governance, democracy and civil society, and education. This investigation is informed by our understanding of the poor and dynamics of capitalism, and draws from the global evidence and specific case studies of Muslim and non-Muslim countries.

Paths in Sufism - Past and Present
This course aims to offer students an understanding of the salient features of Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam. This will include knowledge of the historical background, explanation of the development and the foremost personalities of Sufi tradition, and analyses of primary concepts, doctrines, trends and practices of Sufism within their appropriate historical and social contexts. The historical and social origin of major Sufi brotherhoods will also be explored. Through case studies and ethnographic material, students will be required to analyse the impact of Sufism in contemporary Muslim societies. Additionally, the deep and enduring currents of opposition to Sufism will also be considered.

Migration and Diasporas
This course focuses on contemporary international migration from the Middle East and North African region and the emergence of a range of transnational networks that have developed as a result of these movements. It explores theories and concepts of migration, diaspora and hybridity in relation to traditional conceptions of citizenship and belonging in countries around the globe. While engaging with archetypal themes such as 'Exile', 'Diaspora', and 'Transnational' studies, this course concentrates on the emergence of new cultural articulations, social and gender relations, and modes of association and expression. Using Iran as the primary case study, the course provides an opportunity for students to take a comparative look at the development of diasporas in light of historical specificities and various markers of identity such as class, gender, religion, ethnicity, and nation. It takes a close look at the ways in which Shi'a Muslim traditions and practices have been maintained and negotiated and can be used as an identity-building vehicle during the course of migration.

Historiography of the Nation
This course traces current debates surrounding the origins of nations, and seeks to show how these debates can illuminate the study of Muslim civilisations. One recent scholar has argued that "the thorny problem of nationalism" constitutes no less than a "current crisis of historiography." A major concern has been to discern the origins of nations. Should we consider nations as perennial in history, perhaps even "primordial" to the human condition, or are they a "product of very specific, modern conditions, and hence qualitatively novel?" What about the "nations" customarily associated with Muslim civilisations: Arabs, Persians, Turks, and others? Do they originate in the modern period? Are they antique? In what ways are these "nations" paradigmatic for the nation, as an idea? Similarly, how should we define and understand the origins of ethnic groups and their relationship to modern nations? With these issues in mind, this course traces current debates surrounding the origins of nations, and seeks to show how they can illuminate the study of Muslim civilisations.

Trends in Modern and Contemporary Literature
This course seeks to examine the major trends in contemporary literature in selected languages significant to certain Muslim contexts. Poetry in Persian, Urdu and Bengali as well as novels by Muslims in English will, for instance, represent case studies through which literary theories will be critically introduced. It is expected that such a variety of literary genres will help students understand the role that literature plays in their respective societies, the visions it holds and the diversity of such visions.

Research Methodology and Dissertation Planning II
This course focuses on the advanced stages of the Masters dissertation and proceeds from the twin assumptions that one's work is improved by presenting it to peers, and that there is a lot to learn about research if one understands the research interests of others. In a seminar format, students present their work with an eye toward improving the definition of key concepts, theoretical framework, structure, and arguments of their dissertations. Students receive criticism and are required to thoughtfully and constructively critique the work of other students. Readings and assignments are tailored for each student for the purpose of advancing dissertation work.

Muslims in Western Contexts
This course will explore the recent history of Muslims in the West within the perspective of historical links between Muslim and Christian cultural spheres. The history of migration of Muslims to the West, strategies of adaptation, institutional building, co-operative as well as critical interactions within broader Western contexts, and inter-generational changes in outlooks, perception of heritage and citizenship rights will be explored. The question of the formation of identity in relation to the 'other' with reference to 'Islam' and the 'West' - categories which themselves need reconsideration - will form a substantial part of the course. Relevant to these issues, the questions of modernity, secularism, citizenship and communal rights will also be discussed.

Traditions and Change in Sub-Saharan Africa
The aim of this course is to explore the place and status of 'tradition' in Sub-Saharan Africa and its relationship to change, answering - among others - such questions as: does a 'traditional Muslim society' resist change? If so, why? How does such a society incorporate change? The answer requires not only an understanding of the role of tradition in such societies and communities, but also its links to terms such as 'culture', 'customs' and 'practice'. The course also discusses the role of tradition vis-à-vis authority, beliefs, rituals and institutions within broader historical contexts of social and political movements and ideas that emerged from pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial encounters. Finally, effects of globalisation on 'traditional values' will also be considered. By the end of the course, students should be able to understand tradition not as a total agency of rigidity, but also as a phenomenon that, at times, itself engenders change.

Traditions of Learning: Modes, Meanings and Transformations in Muslim Contexts
Education and, more generally, intellectual life in Muslim societies, today, are seen by many as both the most lamentable reflection of the state of these societies and the most important factor requiring attention if the situation is to change. The course examines the emergence, functions and continuity of learning traditions in Muslim cultures, past and present. Drawing upon the tools of sociology of knowledge and history of ideas, the course explores the interactions between ideas and social forces as well as the role of oral traditions, memory and authority in pre-modern Muslim learning traditions. Politics surrounding the institutionalisation of learning (in particular through the madrasa), the prestige and perils of patronage, and theories of knowledge and learning will form an important part of the course. Selected case studies of the emergence of modern educational systems, their relationship with state formation and with traditional learning institutions will provide material for investigating the 'crisis' of learning and intellectual life generally in many modern Muslim contexts. Various responses to these challenges - ranging from the re-appraisal of heritage to its rejection and from a retreat into the myth of the 'Golden Age' to its comparative study - will be examined.  ​

Related Links

​Prospectus 2012-13

How to Apply​​