IR4B1      Half Unit
Islam in World Politics

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof John Sidel


This course is available on the MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe, MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe (LSE & Columbia), MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe (LSE & Sciences Po), MSc in International Relations, MSc in International Relations (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in International Relations (Research), MSc in Political Science (Global Politics) 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 by tracing the trajectory of Islam as a force in world history from from the late nineteenth century 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, civil wars, and separatist struggles. 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 on important cases like Al Qa'ida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, civ, the so-called 'Islamic State' in Iraq and Syria, the U.S.-led ‘Global War on Terrorism’, as well as important trends in the UK and across Europe, with close attention to the rise of Islamophobia in these contexts and elsewhere.


10 hours of lectures and 13 hours and 30 minutes of seminars in the WT.

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 an essay of roughly 1,500 words in length by the Reading Week. The essay should address a question drawn from the course outline and reading list or agreed with the course instructor, who will also provide guidance on structure, substance, and sources, and extensive feedback.

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).


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the spring exam period.
Essay (50%, 3000 words) in the ST.

The exam will be an on-campus e-exam during the main exam period. 

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2022/23: Unavailable

Average class size 2022/23: Unavailable

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

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