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Culture and Society in the Medieval Muslim World


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies or the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) is required. Furthermore, students should be able to use Arabic sources (minimum level: three year of education at BA-level; level B2 European Common Framework, i.e. at least 80 EC = 2240 hrs of language courses at BA level). These texts form the core of the material studied and discussed in class. If you are interested in taking this course but you are not a student of one of the above-mentioned MA programmes and/or you are not certain about the sufficiency of your knowledge of Arabic, please contact the Student advisor or Dr. J. Bruning prior to registration.


This course will examine the daily life experience of medieval Muslims through literary and documentary sources. One group of meetings (conducted by Dr J. Bruning) will focus on Egypt and study the social history of Egyptian Muslims through the lens of papyri and paper documents. A second group of meetings (masterclasses by Prof Dr M. Fierro) will concentrate on the Islamic west and study the local process of Islamisation. Engaging with original documents and contemporary literature, we will treat such topics as the theoretical framework of documentary evidence; literacy, education and scribal practices; the character and practice of Muslim rule as expressed in governmental institutions, such as the court, the law, and the bureaucracy; economic realities and activities; religion, conversion and interreligious relations; and diplomatic relations. The course has two connected goals: to deepen the student’s knowledge and experience of the social history of medieval Islam and to familiarise him/her with the written sources of this period. These two academic goals are joined in the work with primary sources, such as coins, documents, manuscripts and inscriptions, which is central to this course.


Note that that the contents and/or mode of instruction of this course might slightly change because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Course objectives

The objectives of this course are:

  • to become thoroughly acquainted with the historical debate on the social history of medieval Islam;

  • to allow students to develop a strong and detailed understanding of the pertinent primary and secondary sources;

  • to familiarise students with theoretical approaches to the theme and to become acquainted with the tools needed to understand the primary sources (coins, documents, manuscripts) relevant to the study of this period;

  • to help students develop the ability to critically assess prevailing approaches to the subjects covered;

  • to carry out a small research project on a well-defined topic, based on primary source texts;

  • to report on research findings orally (by reading a paper) and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of historical scholarship.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The conveners 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.

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) to the Brightspace through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Oral presentation 20%
Participation and performance in weekly assignments 15%
Final paper (written; ca. 4,500 words) 65%

Final Paper
The paper is assessed on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Demonstration of knowledge and the use of primary and secondary literature;

  • Presentation and consistency of arguments;

  • Communication: number of words, language, lay-out.

The final paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version.

Late submissions of the final version will result in a deduction of paper grades as follows: 1-24 hrs late = -0.5; 24-48 hrs late = -1.0; 48-72 hrs late = -1.5; 72-96 hrs late = -2.0. Late papers will not be accepted more than four days after the deadline, including weekends and will be graded with 1.0.

The actual deadlines for submission of the first and final versions of the paper will be communicated by the convenor of the course through Blackboard. The deadline(s) mentioned in uSis is/are a fictional date for administration purposes only.

The weighted average forms the final mark for this course. In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (= 6) or higher. The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper, a resit of the paper is possible (65%). In that case the convener of the course will assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.

A resit of the other partial assessments is not possible.

Exam review

If a student requests in writing a review of his/her examination answer script within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.

Reading list

Students should sign up before the first class on Brightspace for this course where the reading and assignment for the first class can be found. Students should bring their completed assignment to class.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “USIS-Actnbr.”. More information on uSis is available in Dutch and English. You can also have a look at the FAQ.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.


Dr. J. Bruning


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 abovementioned protocol.