Political Islam: an Introduction

Instructor: Suzanne Schneider
Location TBD

Though widely depicted as a holdover from the medieval era, the diverse phenomenon known as Political Islam was born in the 20th century of distinctively modern conditions. Composed of a varied group of actors, parties, movements, and platforms, Political Islam (or Islamism) is as much a story of urbanization, nation-state formation, rising literacy rates, oil booms, women’s participation, and struggles against colonialism as it is of a particular approach to Islamic theology and law. What are the major concerns and characteristics of contemporary Islamist movements, and how are we to understand their salience?

Drawing on works from the fields of history, theology, political theory, and sociology, this course will offer students an introduction to the varied actors and agendas that constitute Political Islam. We will begin by examining the modernist movements of the late 19th century–associated with figures such as Syed Ahmad Khan, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and Muhammad ‘Abduh–and the ways in which their dual critiques of the religious and political status quo paved the way for future, and often more radical, thinkers such as Muhammad Rashid Rida, Ali Shariati, Hasan al-Banna, Abu?l-A?la Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb. In latter weeks, we will consider more contemporary thinkers and manifestations of Islamist politics, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Iranian Revolution. Finally, we will examine the relationship between mainstream Islamist groups and militant organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS that also frame their political agendas in religious terms. What types of innovations–legal, political, and social–have Islamists advanced? What relationship between the individual and the collective do they envision? How do they conceive of sovereignty, subjectivity, and violence? And to what extent have these ideas fueled mass political movements that have agitated for the Islamization of state and society? Readings will include selections from the above figures in addition to scholarly works by Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Roxanne Euben, Faisal Devji, Saba Mahmood, and Olivier Roy, among others.

Course Schedule

Date(s) to be announced soon.


Registration Open

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