Students on the MA in Muslim Cultures (30 Credits) take 24 credits of coursework in the first two semesters, followed by 6 credits of thesis research in the third semester. 

  • Muslim Societies in a Changing World (3 credits) - Core course

  • Research Methods for the Social Sciences and Humanities I (3 credits) - Core course

  • Research Methods for the Social Sciences and Humanities II (3 credits) - Core course

  • Language I: Arabic OR Persian (3 credits) - Core course

  • Language II: Arabic OR Persian (3 credits) - Core course

  • Thesis (6 credits) - Core course

  • Plus 3 elective courses worth 3 credits each

    • 1 in the first semester

    • 2 in the second semester

  • Communications and Organisational Skills Workshop (non-credit bearing)

  • Language immersion programme (non-credit bearing)​

Course Descriptions

Muslim Societies in a Ch​anging World

The course will discuss the historical setting or context concerning discussions interpretations and debates in regard to the lost influence of the Ottoman Empire and the expansion of western European countries, and later North America, as colonial powers. It will examine the more tangible, material and physical forms of colonial rule as well as the ideas that is usually linked to the conceptualisation of the term "modernity". The course scrutinizes the ideas of individual Muslim intellectuals and religious scholars in the 18th and 19th century, especially their responses to philosophies produced primarily Europe, but also the establishment of various social, political and religious movements in the 20th century. In addition, the ideas are also placed in a context that includes the study of political and social responses within colonial and later independent states and societies. In sum, the course will examine both the historical setting and impact of modernity by engaging with various theories and the responses to these ideas in Muslim societies, but also taking an approach in which the context of discussions among Muslims is significant and understanding Muslims as producers of modern life.​

Research Methods for the Social Sciences and Humanities (I and II)

The aim of these two core courses, is to provide comprehensive understanding of the diverse research methods used in the Social Sciences and Humanities, and to convey the necessary practical skills required for their application. Through lectures, seminars and practical workshops, the course will provide students with relevant knowledge of major research methods, their respective uses and usefulness, and their relevance for the study of contemporary Social Science and Humanities research issues. The course begins with an introduction to research design, encompassing both qualitative and quantitative research methods and their uses, seen in relation to the question of validity. Students will be required to study a problem assigned to them, applying their knowledge and skills to this problem throughout the course. Techniques for data collection and analyses of interviews, questionnaires, participant-observation, social network analysis and database material will be taught in workshops. Development of the skills required for both written and oral dissemination of results is also a key feature of the course.​​

Optional Language Immersion Programme

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

This option 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. ​

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.​

Thesis and Fieldwork

During the third semester of the MA Programme students may undertake field work as part of their thesis research. Students' field projects will focus on an area of their interest and constitute the research component of their thesis. 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 6 credits and students must achieve a passing mark in order to graduate. Theses are marked by two internal markers and an external examiner. 

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

Elective Courses Descriptions

The elective courses described here are only illustrative and will change from year to year. Students select one elective course in the first semester and two elective courses in the second semester.

Art and Architecture in Muslim Cultures

The course will lay the foundations for the study of Muslim art and architecture. The philosophy of this course is to present material cultures through the prism of a major Muslim city, Cairo, one of the most iconic cities in the world. Among the cities associated with the Muslim civilization, Cairo is a representation of the most culturally and certainly the richest architecturally. This megapolis is fully representative of all the Islamic dynasties in the Middle East and illustrates perfectly the complexity of Muslim societies. The course begins by the historiography of the discipline: art history and archaeology. Then we will investigate what is urbanism in Muslim context and what is a mega-polis? What is an 'urban fabric' and what are the links between architecture and society? The main lectures will be devoted to Muslim arts and architecture through different dynasties. But more important than the style or the period, our focus will turn on the functions of the buildings in the city. Our survey will include religious architecture (mosques, madrasas and mausoleums); civilian architecture (palaces, houses, hammams and caravanserais) and military architecture (citadels, castles and town walls). The course aims to introduce people and society though all the material culture. All aspect of Muslim cultures will be explored as intellectual life through manuscripts, paintings and miniatures; or domestic life with carpets, ceramics, glasses, metal works and wood carvings. Focusing in particular on textiles and clothes, it would be possible to investigate the dress codes of an urban society and to see what makes the Muslim dress code different from the other communities in the city.  ​

Islam and Creativity

This course combines a focus on Islam and creativity in contemporary societies with cultural studies perspectives. The course provides students with tools to understand Islam as a complex phenomenon that embraces literal, artistic, social, historical, sociological, anthropological and political facets.

Paths in Sufism: Past and Present

The course is designed to furnish the student with a knowledge of the main doctrines of the Sufi tradition, and with an understanding of Sufism as a socio-historical phenomenon from the origins to modern times. By relying on historical, literary, anthropological and ethnographic material the sessions are aimed at making students aware of the complexities one encounter in studying Islamic Mysticism in different historical and geographical contexts.  The course will be divided into two parts: the first part aims to cover the historical development of Islamic mysticism. In this first part of the course we will look at the origins and definition of Sufism, but also at the main personalities of ancient Sufi philosophy and at the literary dimension of Islamic Mysticism. In the second part of the course we will concentrate on an understanding of Sufism in the modern setting. More specifically we will look at Sufi rituals and organisation with a focus on contemporary ethnographic material in an attempt to understand Sufism both as an historical and as a social phenomenon.​

Sacred Across Cultures

The study of the Sacred lies at the heart of understanding what it is to be human.  Many of the questions raised by a consideration of the Sacred are similar to those concerning the nature of humanity.  Who are we?  Why are we here?  What should we be doing - together, individually – and how?  Ideas of the sacred are found around the world and belief in the centrality of the sacred, is one of the few cultural universals over time and space. Every group of people develops a system of beliefs designed to address these and related questions.  Some make no distinction between this and other aspects of their daily lives.  Others believe the sacred contrasts sharply with the profane, and mediate their understanding of the sacred through prescribed texts and rituals.  In this course, we will explore the variety of experiences and conceptions of the sacred found in different societies. We look at how the sacred has been managed and processed as part of religious behaviour, through the establishment of 'correct' belief and practice. But we will also look at how individuals and groups engage with the sacred outside the control of religious organisation.​

Muslims in a Minority Context

This course aims to study Muslim life in minority contexts. This involves the study of the history and development of specific examples of Muslim communities, primarily in South Asia and Europe. The course is founded on studies analyzing Muslim life in general in these two geographical contexts, and it addresses social, political, religious and cultural aspects of Muslim presence in South Asia and Europe. A focus in the course is the role and function of religion in minority contexts and how religion is interpreted and practiced among minorities. Beyond studies of the history and ethnographic scholarship the instructors will also use film, mosque visits and social media as empirical material to discuss the complexity of Muslim life in minority contexts. A question that will be present throughout the course concerns how we, from a scholarly point of view can address and analyze Muslim minorities and Islam.​​​

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.​

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.​

Traditions and Change in Sub-Saharan Africa

The course explores the place and status of tradition and its relationship to change in Sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on two communities - the Hausa in West Africa, and the Swahili in East Africa. After placing the communities in their historical contexts, the course examines the role of tradition among the Hausa and the Swahili in relation to authority, beliefs, rituals, institutions, social organization and the construction of identity. Effects of globalisation on 'traditional values' will also be considered. ​

Religion, State & Politics in the Middle East 

This course is a comparative study of the Middle East, in particular Turkey and Iran, which will be of interest especially to students who want to explore religion-state relations in comparative perspective and the dialectic of secularization and desecularization in these states/societies. The comparison is interesting because in the nineteenth century the Qajar and Ottoman Empires were, in some respects similar, namely Islamic, patrimonial polities of Turkic origin threatened by Western encroachment. How did one eventually become an Islamic Republic and the other, at least until recently, a secular Republic? Starting with the pre-modern empires this course will explore these issues by looking at the modern history and political trajectories of the two regions with a particular emphasis on understanding the changing configurations of religion and state as well as the formations of secularism and Islamism in both cases.   

For more information, please contact us at: ismc.admissions@aku.edu​​

Related Links

ISMC Prospectus 2018.jpg​​

MA in Muslim Cultures Prospectus 2020​​

How to Apply​​​​​