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Unit information: Anthropology of Islam in 2015/16

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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 Professor. Gibson
Open unit status Not open




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

Description including Unit Aims

This unit introduces a wide range of ethnographic material concerning the peoples and cultures of Islam. Largely anthropological in orientation, it covers ritual, religion and society in the region, drawing in particular on the example of Turkey, where the Unit Director has lived for many years, and upon which he is a specialist. It also covers, albeit to a lesser extent, questions of interaction both between Muslim societies and their neighbours, and also the diverse ways toward which the heritage of other cultures may be reacted to within Islam. Whilst current writers are featured, the unit also looks at famous established works such as the writings of Ernest Gellner, or those of Clifford Geertz and the group of researchers he encouraged in North Africa. Theoretically, amongst the themes that it considers are religion and gender, orientalism, social and political organisations, migration, conflict and the rise of nationalism.


The Unit's aim is to introduce students to a wide range of ethnographic illustration drawn from Islamic societies, and combine this study with themes of immediate practical relevance such as modernisation, gender, faith, conflict or nationalism. Within anthropology, the North Africa has also been particularly a theoretical debating ground in which theories of faith, kinship and modernisation have been argued through, sometimes in great detail. Whilst not concentrating overmuch on these issues, they are nevertheless highlighted through examining the work of Gellner, Geertz and the school of 'thick' description that he partly implemented in North Africa. It is also part of the Unit's aim to encourage a certain greater depth of study of Turkey, the Balkans, and the Middle East as distinct areas, and to this end systematic attention is paid to recent historical developments and the international setting. It is also part of the course's aims to look at the interaction between the west and Islam, and the importance of debates concerning this for recent academic work, including the changing ideas embodied in the term 'Orientalism'.

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 Information

22 lecture/seminar hours and 1 individual tutorial

Assessment Information

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

Reading and References

Slyomovics, S. 1998 The Object of Memory: Arab and Jew Narrate the Palestinian Village, Pennsylvania; University of Pennsylvania Press.

Geertz, C. (ed) 1979 Meaning and order in Moroccan society: three essays in cultural analysis / [by] Clifford Geertz, Hildred Geertz, and Lawrence Rosen; with a photographic essay by Paul Hyman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gellner, E. 1969 Saints of the Atlas, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

Shankland, D. 2003 The Alevis in Turkish Society, London; Routledge.

Jospeh, S. and Slyomivcs, S. (eds.) 2000 Women and Power in the Middle East, Pennsylvania; University of Pennsylvania Press.

al-Rasheed, M. 2002 A History of Saudi Arabia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.