Comparative Social Science Courses


Islamic Civilization: An Alternative Worldview (I-II)

These Year 1 courses provide a chronological overview and exploration of key core principles and themes in the development of intellectual, cultural, socio-political and economic dimensions in the history of Islamic Civilization, including the birth of the Islamic Disciplines (ʿUlūm). They will start with the birth of Islam until the period just before the Ottoman tanzimat reforms.

One important focus will be the degree to which contemporary Islamic thought will be able to develop a contemporary Islamic worldview that brings together pre-modern and contemporary perspectives in a way that allows us to reach a deeper meaning of what it means to be a “world/universal/open civilization” today. As such, the course will explore the idea of an “Islamic civilization” itself, seeing how it can be rooted in the efforts of pre-modern Muslim intellectual figures but not confined to it.

The Birth of the Modern World & Its Global Impact 

This Year 2 course gives students a broad overview of the development of the modern world from the Western Middle Ages when the West was still traditional through the radical transformations of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment until the early 21th century. The students will gradually become acquainted with the cognitive shifts and philosophical, social, cultural, political, and economic transformations that gave birth to the modern world.

We will look at key figures and currents that brought an end to the traditional worldview and gave birth to the modern worldview. Chronologically, the course will overlap with the last few centuries covered in previous course on Islamic Civilization but within the Western timeline. Towards the end of the Western timeline, the course will shift back to cover the post-traditional or early modernization period in the Islamic world in the early to mid-19th century. 

Self, Society & Politics: A Comparative Exploration

The conceptual key to this course will be the important distinction between ‘spiritual authority’ and ‘temporal power.’ These terms will be explained and developed into a framework through which students can then understand and analyse the relationship between moral (religious/spiritual) authority and worldly human institutions that are necessary for the realisation of a moral order on earth. Students will take a journey through Islamic history and select texts, looking at how the relation between spiritual authority and temporal power was negotiated starting with the exemplary model of the Prophet ﷺ, through the paradigmatic four rightly guided caliphs to the Umayyad, Abbassid, and finally the Ottoman example.

The course will then look at how the modern nation-state was introduced into the Muslim world and the consequences it has had on Muslims societies and forms of governance. It will take a close look at what it means for a community to organize itself within a nation-state, the political, moral, and ethical implications for agency and subjectivity. The course will end with an exploration of ways in which pre-modern Islam can address and heal some of the intractable ethical and moral problems created by the modern nation-state and whether or not some pre-modern Islamic forms of governance and moral order are retrievable today.

Comparative Psychology in Light of the Islamic Science of the Soul

This course provides a survey of the Islamic intellectual heritage as it pertains to the subject matter of psychology. The focus of the course will be to provide a familiarity with the classical Islamic scholarly literature drawing directly from its primary sources. This will allow students to have an unfiltered exposure to the style of writings found across different Islamic scholarly disciplines and to become well acquainted with the Islamic scholarly tradition through the words of its authorities directly. The primary sources discussed in this course will largely be drawn from the following classical fields: Ṭibb, Falsafah, Taṣawwuf, Kalām and Fiqh. The style of the course will be one that combines, both lecture and reading directly from the original text with the instructor’s commentary.

Additionally, classroom discussions and critical thinking exercises will be included. During the course of the classroom readings, there will be a continuous comparative analysis between these classical Islamic texts and modern psychology. A focus on how rich Islamic scholarly tradition can enhance and enrich modern discourses of psychology are explored.  The instructor’s commentary and classroom discussions will pivot around the convergence and divergence between them as well as encouraging critical thinking for how to potentially synthesize or sift through the various parts of these disparate bodies of knowledge.

Comparative Theories and Methods (I-II)

The purpose of these courses is to uncover the conceptual roots and ontological and epistemological assumptions of major methodological schools in social sciences. While surveying the basic assumptions of major schools, the courses will uphold a genealogical approach, that is, it will comparatively discuss the origins and theoretical foundations of each school.

Rather than favoring one approach over another, the courses aim to illustrate the existence of the wide array of methodological approaches in social sciences. Various approaches emanating from different world views and ideologies may sometimes appear in tension with one another. The courses aim to bring them into dialogue within a comparative perspective by highlighting their potential strengths and limitations. The courses will provide alternative perspectives highlighting the potential power of Islamic schools of thought to respond to contemporary questions in the social sciences. In this regard, the methods of falsafah, kalām, taṣawwuf and fiqh will be presented alongside social science and humanities perspectives.

The History & Philosophy of Science: Comparative Perspectives

The conceptual key of this course involves a contrast between two different notions of reason. The course lessons will show, in a comparative context, the broader scope of intellect (ʿaql) and the reductionist nature of rationalism and positivism. It will start by showing the complex nature of reality as a hierarchy of levels (traditional metaphysics), then move on to a detailed discussion of how materialism’s reduction of the levels of reality to just the physical-material plane is illogical and irrational (modern naturalism). It will also show how positivism or empirical reasoning is an inadequate tool for appreciating levels of reality beyond the physical and modes of knowledge beyond the purely rational.

The course will then introduce students to a pre-modern notion of ‘aql that is a lot more expansive. Several lessons will also introduce students to the contemporary debates in the philosophy of science.

Sacred Art, Architecture & Aesthetics: A Comparative Framework

This course’s conceptual key focuses on the distinction between objective beauty and subjective beauty. It develops the argument that most cultures in human history distinguished between two types of beauty: objective and subjective. The former represented by the objective beauty of nature, which held to be universally true while the latter refers to a type of beauty determined by cultural preferences, social distinctions, and personal idiosyncrasies. Through detailed arguments and visual examples (from Christian, Islamic, and World Art), it shows how most cultures saw the emulation of nature as the ideal for art given that nature was fashioned or created by the Supreme Being Who perfected it and so nature alone was worthy of emulation for human art. This explains why so much of traditional art is universally recognized as beautiful.

However, from the European Renaissance onwards, a shift occurred away from objective beauty towards an increasing reliance on subjective criteria for beauty until Romanticism and the 19th century when subjective experiences of what is true and beautiful dominated shifting European aesthetics away from what is objectively true and beautiful to what is subjectively true and beautiful. This gave birth to the artist as ‘genius,’ i.e. as someone possessed of a unique in-born talent who did not conform to the socially acceptable standards of truth and beauty but rather explored the darker realms of one’s interiority or subconscious. This birth of subjectivity has had grave consequences for epistemology, philosophy, ethics, truth, and art.

With colonialism and globalisation this has become a universal phenomenon. Its impact on traditional Islamic art, architecture, and urbanism has been catastrophic. This will be explored giving examples from the Islamic world. We will also explore contemporary postmodern art in light of traditional principles of sacred art showing how postmodern art can only produce ugliness because it is no longer anchored in the transcendent dimension of the spirit but rather in the very personal dimension of subjective experience and expression.

Comparative Bio-Ethics

This seminar aims to provide an Islamic perspective on contemporary bio-ethical problems within a fiqh-based worldview, and to give an accurate methodology and interpretative skills in approaching bio-ethical issues. This course will bridge the field of medicine and fiqh, to produce solutions for contemporary problems from within an Islamic framework. The seminar will first introduce students to bio-ethics, its theoretical background, and practical problems, such as organ transplantation, abortion, genetic intervention, euthanasia, and stem cell research. In addition, students will have the knowledge to conduct interdisciplinary research, study and compare the literature on bio-ethics from Islamic and contemporary scientific perspectives. 

Comparative Philosophy and Practice of Education 

This course provides an introductory exploration of educational philosophies, pedagogies and practices arising from the Islamic intellectual heritage. Through reference to classical texts from both traditions, this course will enable students to critically evaluate and develop a nuanced understanding of the differences and similarities between ‘western’ and Islamic philosophies of education. The work of key contemporary Islamic educational theorists will also be employed to engage in comparative deliberations.  

This course will build on the ‘Comparative Psychology’ and ‘Comparative History and Philosophy of Science’ courses to consider Islamic conceptualisations of human development and how these relate to the Islamic concepts of tarbiyah, t’alim, t’adib and tazkiyah. Conceptualisations of education rooted in these terms will be used to engage in critical evaluation of contemporary Muslim educational practice. Illustrative case studies of contemporary Muslim educational institutions, community projects and innovative models will help students appreciate the practical implications of Islamic educational theory.