Islam in World Politics

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof John Sidel CON 4.02


This course is available on the MSc in African Development, MSc in Conflict Studies, MSc in Global Europe: Culture and Conflict, MSc in Global Europe: Culture and Conflict (LSE & Sciences Po), MSc in Global Politics, MSc in International Relations, MSc in International Relations (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in International Relations (Research), MSc in International Relations Theory and MSc in Social Anthropology (Religion in the Contemporary World). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

All students are required to obtain permission from the Teacher Responsible by completing the Student Statement box on the online application form linked to course selection LSE for You. Admission is not guaranteed. 

Course content

The course focuses on the role of Islam in world politics, posing two inter-related questions: First, how can we explain the varying nature and strength of Islam as a discursive and mobilisational force in international relations? Second, how should we understand the impact of changes in international relations on the institutions, authority structures, and identities associated with Islam? In this course, the approach to these questions is comparative. The course begins with an examination of the distinctive transnational structures of Islam as compared with another major world religion: Christianity. The emergence and trajectory of Islam as a force in international relations since the late 19th century are examined across successive periods in world history. The course covers the rise of transnational Islamist networks from the late Ottoman era through the tumultuous years of mass mobilisation in the interwar era, demobilisation with the formation of new nation-states in the early Cold War era, and the revival of Islam in world politics by the 1970s with the Iranian Revolution and developments elsewhere in the Muslim world. But most of the course covers the contemporary post-Cold War era, examining the varying role of Islam in diverse regional settings - Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe - and in the contexts of globalization and democratization, mass migration, separatist struggles and regional conflicts. Close attention is paid to the role of Saudi Arabia and Iran in the global politics of Islam, to Sunni-Shi'i conflicts, and to the question of Israel and Palestine. The course also focuses important cases like Al Qa'ida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Chechnya, Iraq, and Somalia, as well as important trends in Western Europe, including the UK.


10 hours of lectures and 12 hours of seminars in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of lectures and 1 hour and 30 minutes of seminars in the ST.

Professor Sidel will be solely responsible for the lectures and the seminars. Students will be divided into seminar discussion groups at the beginning of the course. During reading week Week 6 there will be no formal teaching, but film viewings instead.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to submit two essays of 2,000-3,000 words in length - one in Michaelmas term; one early in Lent term.  These essays will help students develop their knowledge of specific topics of particular interest to them and to receive feedback and guidance from Professor Sidel.  Students will also produce a 2-3 page outline of their assessed essay in Week 7 of the Lent Term.  The outline should include a research question, an overview of the argument, a draft structure and an indicative reading list.  Advice and approval will be provided within two weeks of submission of essay outlines. 


Indicative reading

Asef Bayat, Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007); Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005); Dale F. Eickelman and James Piscatori, Muslim Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996); Vali Nasr, Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the Muslim Middle Class and What it Will Mean for Our World (New York: Free Press, 2009); Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006); Madawi Al-Rasheed (ed.), Kingdom Without Borders: Saudi Political, Religious and Media Frontiers (London: C. Hurst, 2008); Olivier Roy, Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah (London: Hurst, 2004); Reinhard Schulze, A Modern History of the Islamic World (London: I.B. Tauris, 1998); Akbar Ahmed, The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2013).


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the ST.

Assessed essay of 5,000 words (100%) due on the Monday of Week 2 of the Summer Term.  The essay topic must be approved by the course convener and focus on observable patterns and/or processes of mobilisation in the name of Islam in world politics.

Student performance results

(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 15.3
Merit 52.8
Pass 27.8
Fail 4.2

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2016/17: Unavailable

Average class size 2016/17: Unavailable

Controlled access 2016/17: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills