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The University of Southampton

HIST2087 Islamism – from the 1980s to the present

Module Overview

Since the end of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s, the modern world has witnessed the emergence of Islamist states and powerful Islamist political movements including in West Asia and the Near and Middle East: the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic in Iran, the Islamic Da’wa Party in Iraq, the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, the Ennahda Party in Tunisia, and the Islamist Justice and Development Party in Turkey. Paradoxically, the rise of Islamism that is best known for its anti (or at least non)-Western characteristics, has been either tolerated or supported by the Western World and the United States in particular both as a discourse borne of Orientalism and as a political convenience during the last stages of the Cold War . In fact Islamist states in the region were considered by the West to constitute a new “security” belt that was to protect the Western interests against the Soviet Union and its successor, the Russian Federation. Unpredictable developments in Afghanistan and Iran, however, caused costly wars but in exchange provided more opportunities for the USA to consolidate its military presence in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The key concepts in Islam on which the Islamist parties rely to justify their claims
  • The historical and socio-political contexts within which Islamist movements took shape
  • The latest debates on the historical and socio-political factors behind the rise of Islamism
  • Major sources including primary sources and recent scholarship that will equip you with an scholarly understanding of Islam and Islamism
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Use a range of perspectives in problem-solving
  • Critically analyse a diverse range of source material
  • Organise and structure material to write and present confidently
  • Communicate a coherent and convincing argument in written formats
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Read primary and secondary sources critically
  • Explain, and engage with, the different historiographical approaches, in writing
  • Express your own view when engaged in scholarly debate
  • Structure your ideas and research findings into well-ordered essays


This module will study the development of Islamism at state level (Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey) in the last 40 years within the wider historical and geopolitical contexts since the early twentieth century. As a post-Cold War phenomenon, Islamism is different from the pan- Islamism of the nineteenth century that combined Western science with traditional Islam in order to fight back the spread of Western imperialism. The module will examine these differences, both politically and ideologically. Drawing on some historical cases and contexts, for instance the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Khomeinism in Iran, and Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, it will analyse the ideological and political differences of Islamism, or political Islam, with traditional Islam. It will also explore the political and ideological roots of Islamist terrorist groups as one of the components of the rise of Islamism. Throughout the module the hypothesis that Islamism has been a direct result of ‘modernism’ and ‘modernisation’, in other words, Western influence, will be tested and discussed. Islamism, unlike the common wisdom, is not a mere cultural or political reaction to modernisation or Western influence, but the very product of Western influence. The idea of ‘revolution’ did not exist in traditional Islam. Although there are concepts of terror (qatala= killing) in the term jihad (endeavour, effort, fight for Islam), terrorism as practised by the Islamist groups is a legacy of the ‘communist’ liberation guerrillas during the twentieth century under the Cold War period. The module will examine cases like Ali Shariati in Iran (a Sorbonne- educated historian and sociologist, died in Southampton in June 1976 and known as the ideological father of the Islamic Revolution), and the Palestinian Liberation Movement that blended Islamic ideology with Marxism and/or Socialism to provide a new ‘revolutionary’ and ‘bloody’ picture of Islam. For Shariati this was ‘Modern Islam’ as opposed to ‘Traditional, or ‘Apolitic Islam’. For Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic regime in Iran and the erstwhile follower of Shariati, “political Islam is killing, is giving blood, and is to be killed. Political Islam and its discourse are, and have to be, parts and parcels of all religious festivals, rituals and ceremonies” (Khamenei, Tehran, Dec. 2013). The module will also examine how modern institutions, such as parliament, Constitution, Fundamental Law, universal suffrage, referendum, and even the women’s emancipation and their right to take part in social activities, have become the very legitimating tools for the Islamists to recruit and to take power. Seminar topics will likely include: Religion and politics in Islam From Pan-Islamism to Islamism Islam and Modernity Political Islam and its different persuasions in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and North Africa Islamist guerrillas and proxy war (Al-Qaeda, Salafite and Taliban, as political and military arms of the regional powers)

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Short Lectures • Seminar Discussions Learning activities include • Independent reading using resources available in the library • Using and examining primary sources • Note-taking in lectures • Active participation in class discussions You will use reading lists provided by the module convener to guide your reading and preparation for weekly seminars. You will be expected to make contributions to seminar discussions based on your preparatory reading.

Follow-up work100
Completion of assessment task40
Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

John L. Esposito (ed) (1980). Islam and development: religion and socio-political change. 

M. Ayoob Two faces of political Islam: Iran and Pakistan compared. Asian Survey. ,19 , pp. 535-547.

Ignaz Goldziher (1981). Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law. 

Ali Rahnema (ed) (1994). Pioneers of Islamic Revival. 

Aziz al-Azmeh (2009). Islam and Modernities. 

John L. Esposito (ed) (1997). Political Islam. 

John Rawls (1999). The Law of Peoples. 

Asta Olesen (1995). Islam and Politics in Afghanistan. 

Gilles Kepel (2003). Jihad, The Trail of Political Islam. 

Kingshuk Chatterjee (2011). ‘Ali Shari’ati and the Shaping of Political Islam in Iran. 

Aziz Ahmad Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muslim India. Studia Islamica. .

Michael E Salla (1997). Political Islam and the West: a new Cold War or convergence?. Third World Quarterly. ,18 , pp. 729-742.

Bernard Lewis (2003). The crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. 

Bernard Lewis (1982). The Muslim Discovery of Europe. 

Gilles Kepel (2004). Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh. 

Lutz Kleveman (2003). The new Great game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia. 

Peter Mandaville (2007). Global Political Islam. 

François Burgat (2008). Islamism in the shadow of al-Qaeda (translated by P. Hutchinson). 

John L. Esposito & John Donohue (eds) (1982). Islam in transition: Muslim perspectives. 

John L. Esposito (1991). Islam: the straight path. 

D. Springer, J. Regens, D. Edger (2008). Islamic radicalism and global Jihad. 

John L. Esposito (2002). Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback: - non-assessed oral presentations - tutorials to provide consultation on assessed essays - guidance and advice in class on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments - regular work with primary sources to prepare for the essays Link Between Assessment and Learning Outcomes. - The essays will be used to test your knowledge of Islamism, its historical development, its evolution through history, its different forms across the world (including in the Western countries), and various scholarly debates about the rise of Islamism by drawing on case studies. Throughout the module you will also engage in directed and self-directed study, for example through pre-seminar reading and through library research. The presentations (by you and your fellow students) and your reading will provide you with a broad overview of the secondary literature, using the bibliography provided at the start of the module. The discussion generated by these presentations will provide you with the opportunity to explore the relevant major historical debates on a weekly basis. In addition, you will study in depth a range of primary written sources. These sessions will allow you to prepare for the essay proposal in mid-semester (1500-2000 words) and final essay (3500-4000 words) at the end of the semester. Feedback on your progress and development will be given via seminars and group discussions. Responses from tutor and your fellow students to your presentation will also give you formative feedback.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 65%
Essay proposal 35%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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