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A mainly historical study considering both traditional and radically novel views on the origins of Islam.

The beginnings of Islamic theology and law; the doctrines of the sects, especially those of Shi'ism; the development of philosophy, and, in particular, mysticism; the rise of Islamic modernism and reformism; and contemporary practices.

Topics covered

  • Historical background to the rise of Islam,
  • The life and career of the Prophet Muhammad,
  • The main sources of Islam (the Qur’an and the Sunna)
  • Islamic theology and philosophy
  • Shari‘a
  • Sufism and spirituality
  • Current issues in Muslim societies.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • Give a clear and accurate account of the origins of Islam and its development, and recognise the centrality of the Qur’an in Islam and the role of the prophet
  • Identify and differentiate between different strands of contemporary Islamic thought
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the problems associated with the interpretation of religious texts;
  • Select and organise material from a range of primary and secondary sources, including resources selected from the lists of further reading;
  • Identify and focus in detail on key issues within each topic studied;
  • Conduct a critical analysis of key arguments;
  • Construct a sustained argument, drawing on material from secondary sources and their own analysis.
  • Represent the views of others with fairness and integrity
  • Show an ability to assimilate and evaluate competing arguments
  • Show open-mindedness and make sound judgements
  • Produce clear, well-structured written work
  • Write fluently, with minimal grammatical and typographical errors


Three-hour examination

Indicative reading list

  • Abdel-Haleem, M. A. S. (tr.), The Qur’an: a new translation, OUP, 2004
  • Elias, Jamal. J. (ed.) Key Themes for the Study of Islam, Oneworld, 2010.
  • Murata, S. and Chittick, W. The Vision of Islam, London, 2006.
  • Brown, J. A. C. Hadith: An Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009.
  • Hallaq, W. An Introduction to Islamic Law. Cambridge, 2009.
  • Esposito, J. Islam: The Straight Path, Oxford, 1988.
  • Brockopp, Jonathan E. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Mattson, Ingrid. The Story of the Quran: Its History and Place in Muslim Life, Blackwell, 2008.