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The Living Quran


Admission requirements

This class is intended (in order of preference) for:

  • (1) students of the BA Middle Eastern Studies who have successfully completed the propedeutic exam;

  • (2) premaster students for the MA Middle Eastern Studies;

  • (3) students from other programmes. Please contact the coordinator of studies, Eli van Duijnen, to find out whether you can be admitted to this class.


From ancient graffiti, manuscripts and public monuments to movies, websites, social media, murals, and madrasas – the Quran is present in every conceivable medium, sustaining a global conversation of extraordinary breadth, diversity and vibrancy. The text of the Quran has been amazingly stable and well-defined since its recording in the seventh century C.E. This textual continuity might give the impression of a static and unchanging tradition, and surely it is sometimes presented as such. But when we look at how Muslims and non-Muslims have handled the Quran, we see that attitudes do differ over time and place. In this course, we explore the production and reception of the Quran as text and material object throughout the centuries. We will investigate the intricacies of the Quran’s text, the complexity of its interpretation, and the variety of its appearance by looking at material and real-life examples. From the debate about the creation of the Quran to the first European translations and contemporary feminist commentaries, we will also examine how different readings of the Quran came into being and how over time these informed fundamental discussions about what it means to be a Muslim. We will also discuss the extent to which various understandings of the Quranic text are reflected in human and societal behaviour.

Course objectives

In this course we study the Quran as a text, a historical phenomenon, and a living tradition. Students will gain familiarity with the Quran’s text, structure and history, and they will learn about related scholarly debates. They will read parts of the Quran in translation and become familiar with extra-Quranic literature, such as classical and modern commentaries. In this way, they will also learn about different and competing interpretations of the text; and about some important debates surrounding the reading and use of the Quran in different societies. They will read and compare different translations. By looking at the presence of the Quran in the public space and every-day life – inscriptions, prayers, poems, amulets, letters, recitation, and even a graphic novel – students will learn how Muslims and non-Muslims have interacted with the Quran as a sacred text and as a physical object in different places and times. Through the written assignments, students will progressively learn to analyze texts and objects and to present their insights in written form according to academic standards. Besides learning about resources (books, encyclopedias, videos, digital platforms), they will be exposed to new scholarly research on the Quran, including academic conversations that are taking place in the public sphere and on social media. They will learn about online resources and how to use them responsibly. They will become familiar with and think about some important points of scholarly and public controversy in the study and application of the Quran. They will also be encouraged to develop team-working skills by sharing information and working collaboratively with their peers.


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Mode of instruction

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total course load 5EC x 28 hours 140 hrs
Lectures (13 x 2) 26
Preparation 31
Study of compulsory literature and materials 31
Written assignments 52

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimise overlap between prior and new work.

Students must submit their assignment(s) through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.


Partial Assessment Weighing
Attendance and Participation 25%
Presentations (2) 25%
Written assignments (3) 50%

Attendance and active involvement are a key part of the seminars. The grade for participation takes into account: that the students show to have prepared for class; that they submit their homework and complete the assignments in time; that they treat their peers respectfully at all times; that they engage in discussion by asking relevant questions and making relevant comments based on the readings, lectures, and shared materials. Students will be asked to prepare and participate in in-class assignments (e.g., small presentations) and to interact with their classmates. By the end of the course, each student will have written three short papers (ca. 1,500 words each). The short papers cannot be re-submitted and they will be graded cumulatively, as the student’s written assignment.

Enrolled students will receive a Syllabus with information on the weekly readings, additional resources, and detailed instructions about the assignments.


The final mark of the course is established by determining the weighted average of the three grades. The class can only be completed when all three components have been completed (not necessarily with a passing grade).


If the weighted average of the three grades is not a passing grade, students will have the chance to take an exam to increase the weighted average to a passing grade. In this case, the exam will count for 50% of the total grade.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • Michael Cook, The Quran. A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

  • Although we will look at various translations, everyone should have access to the following English translation of the Quran: N.J. Dawood, “The Koran”. Penguin Classics, 2003.

  • Additional readings and resources will be listed in the Syllabus.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.


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Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the above-mentioned protocol.