Islam in World Politics

This information is for the 2021/22 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) 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 online application form linked to course selection on LSE for You. Admission is not guaranteed.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access) and demand is typically high.

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 politics? 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 the UK and across Europe, with close attention to the rise of Islamophobia in these countries and elsewhere.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totaling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas, Lent and Summer Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online lectures and in-person classes/classes delivered online.

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);

Mayanthi L. Fernando, The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014);

Fawaz A. Gerges, ISIS: A History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016);

Antonio Giustozzi, The Taliban at War: 2001-2018 (London: C. Hurst, 2019);

Fanar Haddad, Understanding ‘Sectarianism’: Sunni-Shi’a Relations in the Modern Arab World (London: C. Hurst, 2020);

Darryl Li, The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire, and the Challenge of Solidarity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019); Laurence Louer, Shiism and Politics in the Middle East (London: C. Hurst, 2013);

Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013);

Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabar, Religious Statecraft: Politics and Islam in Iran (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017) .


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

The essay topic must be approved by the course convener and focus on a question about the patterns and forms in which Islam has manifested itself as a force in world politics.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 21.1
Merit 67.6
Pass 9.9
Fail 1.4

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Controlled access 2020/21: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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