Not available in 2020/21
Islam in World Politics

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof John Sidel


This course is available on the MSc in Conflict Studies, MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe, MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe (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 mobilizational force in world politicss? Second, how should we understand the impact of changes in world politics 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 trajectory of Islam as a force in international relations since the late 19th century is 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 and the rise of sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shi'a. The course also focuses important cases like Al Qa'ida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, civil wars in settings as varied as Chechnya and Somalia, the rise of the so-called 'Islamic State' in Iraq and Syria, as well as important trends in Western Europe, including the UK.


10 hours of lectures and 13 hours and 30 minutes of seminars in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT. 1 hour 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. 

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

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); Seema Alavi, Muslim Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015); Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005); Fawaz A. Gerges, ISIS: A History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016); Nasher Hashemi and Danny Postel (eds.), Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East (London: C. Hurst, 2017); Gilles Kepel, Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017); Jytte Klausen, The Cartoons That Shook the World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009); Laurence Louer, Shiism and Politics in the Middle East (London: C. Hurst, 2013); Carie Rosefsky Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013); Olivier Roy, Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah (London: C. Hurst, 2004).


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

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.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2019/20: 14

Average class size 2019/20: 14

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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