‘Allahu Akbar!’ cries a bearded man clad in a mediaeval-looking attire before exploding. This is one of the images that comes to mind to so many when Islam is mentioned. But we just as easily think of golden domes, majestic edifices, eloquent and wise doctors, or the well-dressed and groomed princes from the Arabian peninsula driving around in a Lamborghini in London or Paris. The discrepancy between these visions is immense, but not unique to Islam. The word Jewish might conjure the image of a scrawny, but stunningly clever guy working in finances. Or it might bring up notions of religious discipline, a close-knit community shunning strangers. One can do the same with Christianity, where connotations are just as diverse, ranging from Bible bashers refusing to even consider the concept of the evolution of species to a kind old man in white preaching about helping the poor.
Islam, Judaism and Christianity are just the most well-known of the dozens of belief systems the colorful melting pot of the Middle East spawned over the centuries. In the Middle-Eastern Religions module we are going to study these religions, look into their beliefs, their communities and their relationship to each other, aiming at a better understanding of the cultural composition to which more than half of the human population belongs in the modern world. We will also look into broader questions of religion such as how we define beliefs, how we compare them and how they shape our everyday reality.
The module is highly recommended for students considering applying for disciplines primarily engaged with topics of Middle Eastern religions (Theology, Philosophy, Middle Eastern Studies, Biblical Studies etc.) or specialist fields relying heavily on the understanding of such topics (History, Classics, Law etc.). However, we will also relate to and discuss current debates concerning the place of religion in secular societies, fundamentalism, atheism, etc. Therefore, students interested in these topics are also most welcome.