Religion, Modernity, and Democracy: Understanding Islam in Politics


In this course, we will investigate the relationship between modernization, politics, and Islam in Muslim-majority countries. This course provides a unique overview of the historical and religious developments from the end of World War II to the Arab Spring that have made Islam a major political force, and discusses Islam's impact on emerging democracies in the contemporary Middle East.

We will systematically analyze the status of Islam within modern nation-states through several case studies Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey, as well as Egypt and Tunisia. Such case studies will show how Islamic references have been central to building modern national narratives and institutions, and how collective Islamic discourses and actions will influence post-authoritarian regimes and democratic transitions.

The analysis of each country will be based on a discussion of the theories of modernization as well as on a comparison with other similar developments in other parts of the world. It will also discuss and present current sociological approaches to the concept of religion and apply it to Muslim-majority countries.


  1. To reconsider the theories of modernization by introducing the role of Islam in particular and religion in general;
  2. To reconsider the theories of secularism and religion in the light the cultural and religious changes in Muslim countries; and
  3. Discuss the gap between theological work and social interpretation of the Islamic religion in different national contexts.

The following book is required as a resource that we will use in the course in addition to the materials provided for each session:

Jocelyne Cesari, The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity and Democracy, Cambridge University Press, 2014